Faolan O’Connor had business to resolve before he died.
The call he’d been waiting for came around eight. Charlie Luciano’s rough voice said: “It’s on for tonight. Chophouse in Newark.”
“Well, hello to you too, dear,” Faolan answered.
The chuckle on the other end of the line was as genuine as a three dollar bill. “Glad to see you ain’t lost your sense a’ humor,” Charlie said and Faolan heard the tension under the words. “Heard you was under the wedder. Sure ya feel up to this?”
“I’ll climb off my deathbed for this job. I owe Dutch.”
“That’s what I figured. Ten o’clock.” He hung up without saying goodbye. Faolan already knew that was the last conversation they’d ever have.
He dragged himself from his bed, trembling and aching, and dressed in his best olive suit. The tailored pants were baggy on him from all the weight he’d dropped this week and he had to cinch the belt up as tight as it would go. His joints ached like an old man’s and the skeleton that greeted him in the mirror was almost a stranger. He slipped on a gray topcoat and olive fedora to match his suit and took the case he’d already packed downstairs to the front desk of the Waldorf hotel. “Faolan O’Connor, checking out.” The irony of the statement made him chuckle.
The desk clerk looked him over with uncertainty bordering on disgust and slid the printed bill across the desk toward him. Faolan pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and paid, having stashed his wallet in his case along with his new Browning. He didn’t see why Charlie’s vulture should get either.
“Hey sport, can you post this for me?” he asked and pulled a thick manila envelope from the inside pocket of his coat.
“Certainly, sir.” The clerk took the envelope, but paused as he noticed the addressee: THOMAS DEWEY, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE. CITY.
“Early Christmas present,” Faolan said with a smile that became a wince. A cramp stabbed his elbow like a knife and twisted in the bone.
“Are you … feeling poorly … sir?” The clerk looked around, but there was nobody else around at the moment.
Faolan gritted his teeth and willed himself to ignore the pain. He’d be damned if he was gonna fuck up this last job. Just to spite the cramp, he used that arm to lift his small suitcase onto the desktop. “Just an old war wound. I want you to check this bag for me and give it to whoever comes in looking for it.”
“I—I’m sure I don’t understand, sir.”
“I’m leaving it behind for a friend, that’s all.”
“I see. And your … friend’s name?”
The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, but that would be against the Waldorf’s policy.”
Faolan laid his remaining five hundred-dollar bills down on the desk. Overkill, for sure, but what the hell?
The clerk’s resistance melted like ice in August. He scooped the bills up like a casino dealer and put the bag behind the desk. “Very good, sir.”
Faolan started to turn away, but a thought made him turn back. He reached under his shirt collar, there was an inch now between it and his neck, and fished out the St. Patrick’s medal Ma had given him years ago. It was silly to even keep it, honestly, but he wasn’t quite ready to give it up. “Here,” he said, pulling it off and dropping it on the desk, “put this in the bag, too.”
He walked out of the Waldorf and buttoned his coat, even though it wasn’t cold for October. A black Packard sedan sat idling at the curb half a block down. Though Faolan headed right over, the guy in the passenger seat still felt the need to lean across the driver and yell: “Put a little shake on it, would ya?”
This would be Bug Workman, a curly-haired fireplug who happened to be one of Lepke Buchalter’s top hitters. The older, taller driver was Mendy Weiss, another torpedo. Faolan climbed in the back.
“How you feeling, kid?” Weiss asked, pulling back into the traffic of Fifth Avenue.
“Heard you was in a real bad way, pally,” Bug added before Faolan could answer. Christ, did somebody take out an ad? “Me, I’d say you look like five pounds of shit in a ten pound bag. Maybe you shoulda stayed home in bed.”
Faolan removed his hat to smooth his blond hair back. Fucking fever had it falling out in clumps the past few days. He caught sight of his reflection in Weiss’s side mirror and saw a boyish face with the skin drooping like melted wax. He shoved his hat back on. “You bring the drop piece?”
“You don’t got one?” Weiss asked.
“Never use your own gun on a hit,” Faolan told him.
The Bug pulled a .38 S&W from the glove box and passed it back to him. “Fucking ridiculous, us making a special trip up here just for you. We was all set to do the job just fine, but then you gotta come sticking your snout into the trough like a greedy little piggy.”
Faolan checked that the serial number had been filed off and that all the chambers were loaded. The grip was rough, so it wouldn’t hold a print, and the action seemed smooth enough. This was the 1905 model with the four-inch barrel: not quite a belly gun, but not as accurate as he preferred.
“Fallon ‘The Wolf’ O’Connor,” Bug continued.
“Fay-lan,” he said.
“Whatever. I ain’t real impressed so far. What do you say to that, Piggy?”
“I say that mouth of yours is gonna land you in trouble some day.” Faolan glanced out the window as they turned onto Canal Street and headed for the tunnel.
“How about right now?”
“How about right now what?”
“My big mouth, Piggy. You planning on giving me some trouble?”
Faolan watched the Midtown lights give way to the darker tenement streets near the tunnel and helped himself to a Camel. “You don’t need no help from me finding trouble.”
“You got that right, pally,” Bug said with no hint of irony whatsoever. “Hey, Mendy, you catch The Goldbergs last night?”
The Bug blabbed all the way through the Holland Tunnel and on into Jersey City, but Faolan tuned him out. In his considerable experience, any hit was tricky; there were so many details that could fuck you up no matter how much you planned. Tonight’s hit had been thrown together in a big hurry and there was a lot riding on it, so the potential for fuck-ups was very high. Bad odds any way you figured it, but this was his only chance.