Story by Nick Swain
Illustration by Cesar Valtierra
Little Man, Small World
The dice bounced off the wall and rattled against the sidewalk. A single pip in each bone-hued cube peered back up at the boys huddled around them; all baby-faced, all in caps and knickers. “Snake Eyes!” the young roller shouted triumphantly. “My go again.”
“That ain’t how you play!” exclaimed the blonde boy opposite him, the black of his pupils widening, besieged by frustration.
“That’s how we play. And you either get with it or scram!”
“Fine.” The blonde boy submitted. “But make it double or nothing!” He took a velvet-foiled bar from his back pocket and snapped it in two, dropping one half into the pot on the pavement, composed mostly of broken chocolates, taffy, and chewing gum. The first young boy scooped the dice up and shook them by his ear. “Come on, eleven… papa needs eleven, baby…”
In front of the building where the boys were shooting dice, a sky-blue Cadillac coupe pulled to the curb. As its driver finished parking, the passenger emerged; a towering, swarthy man dressed in a smart blue suit, starting straight toward the boys. The blonde one had begun to scuffle with the other as he attempted to pocket his winnings. “You chiseling weasel, you snatched ‘em up before I could even see!” the blonde boy insisted.
The darker haired boy began to get the better of him, as the others egged them on – not cheering for anyone in particular. The tall man stepped in, tugging them each up and apart by their shirts. “What the hell’s the matter with you brats?”
“He’s a dirty cheat!” the blonde started again, unfazed.
“Am not!” the other shouted, the man’s powerful arms the only thing keeping them apart.
“Cut it out,” the man spoke curtly. “I’m talkin’ ‘bout the dice. You kids stupid or somethin’? Shootin’ craps out here on the sidewalk, in front of God an all these businesses, not even using the perfectly good alley you got right beside you? You rug rats are ridin’ the fast rails to the reformatory with gags like that!”
“We weren’t betting nothing but chocolates, mister,” one boy spoke up.
The man scoffed. “You think any of the coppers out here’ll care that you’re just playin’ for candies? All they’ll see is a gang of hoods in the making, and then BAM, that’s exactly what you’ll be before you can even decide for yourself.
“Alright, go on. Beat it. And if you ain’t goin’ to school like you should then find a rooftop or an alley to do that in — and not this alley!”
The gang of boys broke into a lope, scurrying down the sidewalk as the second man emerged from the car. “Nothing changes, huh?” he said. His skin too was naturally dark, and he had the same oval-shaped face and high-cheekbones his passenger did.
“No, nothin’ changes.” The men stood in front of the store, admiring the inside through a wide-pane window. Inside there was row after row of liquor bottles; in the window, on the high-selves lining all four walls, even behind the counter. To the west of the shop, from under a hanging sign that read Sallie’s Shoe Shop, a man with thick, iron-gray hair and mustache were sweeping the doorway. He stopped to wave at the boys and greet them, his heavy Neapolitan accent present in each syllable. The two men greeted him in return. “Hey, how’s it goin’ Mr. Terizini?” An older woman passed the shop pushing a baby carriage. A few stores down, the young boys had started a new game despite still being within sight of their banisher. The first man smirked and started to the store, noticing the other was not following. “What’s the matter? You got the key, don’t you?”
“Yea. I was just thinking.”
“’Bout what, that dish comin’ up the sidewalk? I don’t blame you.”
The first man eyed the other over solemnly. “You worried?”
The man shrugged. “Got to be with their kind.”
“Well, nothin’ will change inside. Come on.”
The men started toward the store’s entrance, the first dragging behind to watch the approaching woman he’d mentioned. From the other side of his shoulder came a voice. “Anthony?”
The man’s right hand quickly – almost instinctively found its way inside his jacket; the left holding the flap open at a discreet angle, not quite revealing what he might’ve been holding. But when he saw the diminutive owner of that shrill voice, he came out empty-handed, all smiles. “Anthony Giante?” A wiry little man, with naturally nervous eyes set in a round face under the lowered brim of a hat, stood between him and the Cadillac.
“Mannie? I can’t freakin’ believe it! Mannie?” The man looked over to his companion at the door. “Look, Sam! It’s Mannie, from Stateville!”
The second man gestured dutifully from the door, standing by, unamused and waiting. Not as pleased with his surprise guest.
“Jesus, Mannie! So how the hell you been? Sam! Sam, get over here, it’s Mannie!”
But he was already turning the key and opening the door. “Yea be there in a minute. Gotta open up first, we’ve got a business to run again, you know.”
Anthony clucked his tongue distastefully as Sam disappeared into the store, then patted the short man on the arm. “See the outside hasn’t made you any taller, huh, Man?”
“Yea. Yea,” the short man answered absently, his dark eyes moving rapidly over the store. “What… What’re you doing these days?”
“Oh, admirin’ the scenery.” Anthony smiled as a strawberry blonde in a mink coat strutted by, hardly paying any mind. From the East, the blonde boy was working back down the sidewalk, inspecting each crevice and crack in the concrete. He seemed to have lost something. “How’s the real world been treatin’ you?”
“Where’s Sam?” The short man blurted, still not making eye-contact with Anthony. “Sam should be here too!”
Anthony frowned. “What’d you go deaf the last few months? Didn’t you hear him? He said he’d be back in a second.”
But the small man didn’t seem to hear that either. He was looking into the street now.
“I see you’re still a jitter-bug, Mannie. Why don’t you hang back and take in the sights?” Two more young, attractive women came walking by from the West; one with red-hair under a smart hat, the other a blonde. Anthony tipped his hat to the blonde as she went by, making it clear that he had a type. The two women were nearing the young boy, who was still busy investigating the sidewalk, as a black sedan crept from around the corner. “You lookin’ for someone, Mannie? Why don’t you come in, have a drink? We got any kind of hooch you could want.”
The little man’s eyes were still in the street and he did not respond to the invitation.
“Mannie, what’s the matter…”
The little man, for the first time it seemed, looked at Anthony’s face. His reedy voice rose as tires suddenly screeched in the street. “Hey, Ton… I’m real sorry… I just wanted you to know that’s the truth…” With that, the little man turned, crouched, and dove as close to the bottom of the Cadillac as he could – scooching his tiny body between the curb and the bottom of the car, as Anthony watched, confounded, only the briefest of suspicions beginning to occur to him. Alarms going off inside his head only when the black sedan came skidding to an abrupt halt in front of the store. The windows on that side of the car were down, but still, the inside seemed black; the silhouette of a driver seemed without a face. From the shadows of the backseat, the mean-looking muzzle of a machine-gun peaked out, and almost instantly erupted; the flash of the blast doing nothing to expose its composer.
A steady stream of slugs tore into – and through, Anthony before his hand was any higher than his waist. His hat and pinky finger were the first things shot off as he went tumbling backward, spinning as the fusillade went on; the violent chattering of the weapon continuing, deliberately unloading on him until he hit the ground. And then just a few rounds more.
There was only the briefest interval as the compensator rose, drawing its bead on the store. And then the volley began all over again. The long-paned window that made up the stores front burst into a thousand glinting pieces. Dozens and dozens of bottles inside popping like a true shooting gallery. Everyone on the sidewalk hit the ground – whether they’d been shot or not.
For at least another five, eternal seconds the bullets strafed away at the building. Then it was over; a merciful clicking came with the dry fire as the long burst of murder from the car ceased, the sedan screeching away with the same haste in its exit as in its arrival. Its gunning motor growling as it tore up the street.
Few rose immediately. Those that did, noticed there were a few who had not risen at all.
The Big Guns
“Get back! Get back, I said!” the uniformed policeman barked at the crowd that had rapidly gathered mass in front of the mangled remains of the Giante liquor store. The grisly sight was perfectly clear from the street – the thrashed bottles and ocean of shattered glass, the ripped apart and slanted shelves of the far wall, nothing in one piece – yet the crowd pushed further. It was still early on the scene, and the border-rope was in the process of being strung up, and until its completion it seemed the duty of crowd-control had fallen to this lone officer, gently waving his flashlight to-and-fro, forcing the crowd back with subtle threats of bludgeoning.
A white wagon pulled away from the scene, skidding and squealing onto Third Street. Not two minutes later a brown flivver came pulling in from the same direction, parking along beside the police cars acting as a sort of barrier that hadn’t worked. From the passengers’ side, a tall man stepped out, the worn heels of his shoes touching the street first. He wore a solid brown suit straight from the rack that clung to bulking shoulders, a matching hat sat above hardened blue-eyes that began examining the scene; just making out a bulging red-stained sheet beyond the heads of the crowd. His granite jaw shifted from side to side in a pensive habit. The man from the driver’s side came around and joined him. He was just a bit taller. Shoulders just a bit broader. He donned a black suit, not quite made of the same cheap fabric as his companion, yet not quite lavish. He wore a small diamond piece in the center of his maroon tie, yet the costliest of his accessories seemed to be the golden pinky ring he wore on the hand he used to balance a fat cigar in his mouth with each long draw.
The man in the brown suit led the way, pushing through the crowd, squinting at the sporadic flashes, and even crushing the spent bulbs left by the cameramen and reporters at the peak of their scavenging. “Get back!” The uniform ordered still. “You can snap your pictures and yap about what you don’t know from back there, go on now!” When the uniform spotted the two stone-faced men pushing his way, his face tightened in frustration. “Look, I just told all these crumbs – “
“I’m Sergeant McGraw, 13th precinct,” the man cut in with a hard, grainy voice. His face was cold and stoic as he flashed his identification. “This is my partner, Sergeant Reed.”
The man in the black suit only continued puffing at his cigar. His glare, equally unfeeling.
“Oh. Sure. Go right through, Serg.”
And without another word or glance, the plainclothesmen pushed past to the core of the scene. Another uniform came loping over to the first one. “You know who that was? That was Six Shot McGraw!”
“Six Shot. They call him that on’a count of he buried all six pills of that big boy double action .44 of his into Benny Stanton.”
“Benny Stanton… the gangster?” the first policeman said, musing. “You mean… that’s George McGraw?”
“Looks like he’s back on the street. I recognize his new partner, too. That’s Mean Mike Reed. That’s quite the pair. Christ, I can’t believe they already brought him back.”
“Guess they had to.” The first policeman now tipped his cap and watched the detectives with the other. “Papers have been making a goddamn true crime hero out of him.”
McGraw and Reed made their way through the implicit path, careful to avoid stepping on any unexamined space. Approaching the older uniform, who stood by the bloody, lumpy sheet, McGraw noticed that there was another, just a few yards from the first; the same crimson stains and ominous human impression as its neighbor. Maybe a bit smaller.
The policeman regarded the detectives as they stopped on the other side of the body. “McGraw. Reed.”
“Hey, O’Bryan. What’s doing?”
“Oh, you know, keepin’ the beat. When’d you get back?”
“Eh, I’m like a bad itch – I always creep my way back up.” His eyes trailed over the second body down by the curb. “So, give me the works.”
“Plenty of witnesses,” O’Bryan began. “’Cept nobody saw who was in the car. All say it was a black Ford sedan. Said it was plenty loud. Figure it was souped-up for this kind’a job.”
“Not one. Mud or tape or somethin’ was coverin’ ‘em. Everyone gave the same story: Big black car came flying around the corner, stopped abruptly at the store, sprayed it and everyone close, then rabbited out. Everyone dropped when the shootin’ started.”
“They said the car stopped?”
“That’s right. What’re you figurin’?”
“Nothing, except its clear they wanted someone dead. Go on.”
“The old greaseball next-door was closest. But he ain’t talkin’. Those dagos never tell us nothin’. All he said was that they were good boys.”
“Would that be the Giantes?” McGraw asked examining the liquor stores’ bullet-riddled moniker.
“That’s right. There’s two of ‘em. This here’s Anthony,” O’Bryan nudged at the sheet with his foot, “It’s the meat wagon for him. He had a .45 automatic under his arm; untouched.”
“Is that Sam over there?” Reed finally spoke, cocking his cigar-wielding hand towards the second sheet. McGraw looked to his partner, then the same sheet.
“No. Sam was in the store when it all started, but it didn’t do him too much good. He took plenty of lead, but he was still kickin’. Should just about be at St. Mary’s by now.”
Reed didn’t say anything else. He went back to chewing on his fat cigar.
“Then who’s that?” McGraw asked grimly.
O’Bryan tipped his cap far back and began to shake his head. “Poor, poor lass. S’shame. Name was Shelly Senter. She’n her friend, Maggie, was on their way to their shift at a diner when these mad dogs came through. Just the damned timing. We had another bus with some boys take the friend over to the hospital, she was in hysterics last I saw her. She didn’t see nothin’ but her friend bein’ torn up.”
McGraw shook a cigarette loose, spit a flake of tobacco out, and asked O’Bryan a few more questions. He spotted a young man coming in from the street, his rimless-spectacles and baggy suit made him appear too young to be on the force. “What took, Farley? Call came in ten minutes ago.”
“You wanted the file on these Giantes, didn’t you? The thing was so thick, I only copied some basics and the last decade of their rap-sheets.”
“What do you got?”
“Both hustlers. Seems they made a living out of it since grade school. Both released on parole from Stateville earlier this month after a three-year stint on larceny charges. Anthony first, the next week Sam. Brothers owned the liquor store before going under, apparently had family run it while they were away. No parole violations within their short amount of freedom, no known steady girls, no known living associates.”
“Living associates?” McGraw repeated, a smoldering cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“That’s right. Get this, they were both known members of a now-dead crew called the Turner gang. All six of the then-remaining gang members – brothers excluded – were cut down execution-style in a warehouse uptown, just about a week after the brothers went away.”
“Warehouse uptown? You mean the Broad St. Massacre?”
“Exactly. Detectives were sent to the pen to question both brothers due to their known association but learned exactly nothing. Like you know, the slayings were never solved; chalked up to another gangland hit.”
“Hey you little brats!” the bellowing voice of the first uniform rang out as the detectives watched him chasing two young boys up the sidewalk.
“I saw him! I saw him!” The young blonde boy blurted out straight to McGraw.
“You fink, keep your mouth shut!” his young companion ordered, tugging at his friend’s shoulder to no avail.
McGraw looked at the uniform and nodded to the second boy, indicating he wanted him removed. Then McGraw said, “Who, kid? The shooter?”
“No,” he cried out, “the third one!”
“What third one?” Reed said, asking only his second question.
“The third man! One of them went inside while the other two stayed, then the little one said something to him,” the blonde boy pointed without fear to the bloody sheet, “then jumped under that car right before they let loose. Then he went crawling away into that alley!”
“You see his face, kid?”
“Nah, not really. But he was a real shorty. I don’t think anyone saw him but us. My pals said I shouldn’t talk to you, ‘cause you’re a cop. But I says, ‘That’s Six Shot McGraw, he’s all right!’”
“Thanks, kid.” McGraw flipped a coin the boys’ way before turning back to Farley. “I want you to dig a little more into these Giantes – the latter of the Turner gang too. But first, stick around and see if anyone else caught a glimpse of this little man. Go on.” When he looked to his partner, Reed was bent down and peaking under the sheet. His face, unmoved by whatever remained of Anthony Giante. “Getting pretty juicy, huh?” McGraw said.
“These greaso-killings usually are.” Reed dropped the sheet and rose. “Doesn’t mean much, I don’t think. There’s always some guy that never gets found. Maybe he was just another poor bastard ducking for cover.”
“Maybe.” Smoke poured slowly from McGraw’s nose as his iron jaw shifted thoughtfully. “But I still wanna find him and ask why he ducked before the shooting started. Let’s get to the hospital. I don’t want the other brother croaking before we can grill him.”
“Look, I told you, you can’t be here.” The doctor argued with McGraw as Reed pried for information. With each question, Sam Giante screamed and writhed in his gurney. Though most were in his stomach, he had tiny, congealing holes scattered all over his upper body – one of his earlobes had even been blown off; the mass of bandages that must have been applied on the ambulance ride were sodden with his blood; Reed pressed him, nonetheless, speaking in his good ear.
“This man will die if we don’t operate soon. He might die anyway!” the doctor insisted.
“The short man. Who is he? Where is he?” Reed went on. Giante squirmed in his agony, ignoring the detective. Reed looked to McGraw and shook his head.
“Let’s talk away from him, Doc.” McGraw led the doctor down the hallway, behind them Reed pulled the privacy curtain shut.
“Look Doc – “
“Listen, officer, I mean it. That gentleman is in bad shape, it’s a miracle he made it here still breathing, and if he uses any of that breath to answer your questions he’ll die.”
“I only need two words, Doc. One if that’s all I can get. I don’t know too much about this guy, except that someone tried pretty damn hard to kill him – did kill his brother – and didn’t mind blasting an innocent girl to do it. I need a name or this whole thing might be over already.”
As it seemed the doctor might’ve been considering, a desperate gasp came from behind the curtain. McGraw just beat the doctor down the hall, pulling the curtain to find Reed holding the back of Giante’s neck with one hand, grasping his shirt collar with the other; at first glance, it looked quite like he was choking the man. “Where? Where?” the detective screamed in his face.
“… C-C-C-Cook… w-was Cook…” Giante spit out – along with some blood, coating his teeth and lips.
“I know that! Where is he?” Reed shook the man somewhat in frustration, seeming not to notice McGraw and the doctor at first. “Where? Goddamn you!”
“…C-C-C-Cook…” Giante rasped out one last time before his hand fell limply from Reed’s wrist, his head lolling back in the detective’s hand. He went still.
Reed placed Giante’s head back against the pillow as the doctor moved swiftly with his stethoscope, hurrying to his patients’ side.
“Cook? How’d you know?” McGraw asked Reed, who’d absently ambled over.
Reed stared back blankly. “Know what?”
“He said ‘Cook’ – you said you knew. Wish you’d shared that bit with me before.”
“Don’t go trying to razz me, George. That’s all the hood kept saying while you were with the doc. It was Cook. Cook, Cook, Cook. No other name. No address.”
“It’s a start. Better call Farley, have him narrow down the records we’ll have to rifle through.”
“Jesus, that could really take some time,” said Reed.
“You got any better ideas? I’d be all for them.”
Reed did not.
“Then we start our manhunt in the file-drawer. Searching for a tiny criminal in a great big city full of criminals,” McGraw mused.
“Think I’d prefer the needle in the haystack.”
“Good chance of getting pricked either way. Whoever this Cook is, his friends play rough.”
“Too bad the worm couldn’t’ve squirmed another minute or two,” said Reed.
The doctor frowned and strung the instrument back around his neck. He pulled the blanket over Sam Giante, and then said, “Well, sounds like you got that name. Now, will you two please get out of here before someone else piques your curiosity. Our morgue gets enough business.”
— ♦♦♦ —
“I’m Edward DeMille, the house detective. Why don’t we sit down and you can tell me what happened?” Too bad for Mr. DeMille, he would regret getting involved with Mrs. Herbert Floyd.