Goosin' Bruiser

 Vol. 78 of Suspense Magazine, in which this story first appeared.

Vol. 78 of Suspense Magazine, in which this story first appeared.

 

     Let’s say you want a guy whacked. You know - rubbed out. In the way his girlfriend don’t do. Well. Unless she does. Some guy’s girls do. Sobotka, up in New York? Awfully generous, when it came to the dames. One of ‘em gets jealous. Next thing I hear, the poor son of a bitch is takin’ up both sides of the bed. She cut him straight in half, like she took the crack in his ass for a suggestion. Not often you see a made guy go out like a wishbone. Coulda buried him in a pair of baguette sleeves. Lotta laughs at his funeral. Closed casket, very respectful.
     That’s the kind of amateur hour rubbin’ out I was talkin’ about, just a second ago. If it ain’t gotta be clean or quiet, but it’s gotta be done, then the only reason it ain’t done yet is because you’re draggin’ ass to the boardwalk. Put it this way; I’d give you fifty bucks outta my pocket if you could find the one lummock down there who wouldn’t do it.
     But that’s for your basic mess job. Let’s say you want somebody taken care of. Also not the way girlfriends do, but let’s not talk about Sobotka again. Sometimes two slugs to the gut sends the wrong message. Maybe you need a guy gone, like really gone. Like the kind of gone that gets the gumshoes scratching themselves bald. Or maybe it’s gotta look like a case of the natural causes. Or the kind of accident can’t be called out by a tricky dick.
     You go back down the boardwalk, try to find somebody can promise you that and deliver. I’ll put my fifty back on the table. Take your time. Don’t worry, I’ll keep flappin’ the dust off. I want it to be nice, for when I put it back in my pocket.
     There’s only one guy in Atlantic City can make that promise and deliver. I’ve seen to that. You ask anybody who should I talk to about my problem, and they’ll tell you: you want Samuzzo D’Amato.
     Some people think that’s a funny name, until I pop ‘em on the nose.
     You laughin’?
     Didn’t think so.

     So anyway, it’s four in the morning, and I’m staring at my toaster. Not everybody can afford a toaster. I can. It’s only right, the guy at the top of his field sets his own price. I set it high. Lets me buy nice things. Like a toaster.
     It’s a nice toaster. I wouldn’t buy a toaster wasn’t nice. It’s all silver and shiny. I can see myself in it. A fat rectangle me. It’s funny. I laugh, and so does the toaster.
     So I pop the toaster on my nose. It throws two pieces of bread at me and clicks real loud. I jump. Anybody would.
     I shake my head at the toaster and toss the toast onto the toast pile. I pull two more pieces of bread off the bread pile, stuff ‘em down those stupid toaster holes, and lean on the lever.
     Then I just wait. Before long this asshole breadbox is gonna screw up some courage and throw more bread at me. And it’s gonna click real loud. I think it’s the click that gets me.         
     I just gotta see it happen. Gotta keep my eyes open. Gotta not flinch.
     See, here’s the thing. I’m the guy you go to, you need a problem taken care of. Remember I was just tellin’ you about that? I’ll work for anybody. I got no formal connections. I follow the money. People respect that. And if they don’t, I go ring their doorbell. They open the door, I lean in. They gotta take a step back and look up. Everybody respects that.
     I’m a bruiser, is what I’m saying. A tough. I’m the tough in town. But I also got this problem. I goose easy. Somebody slams a door too loud, I jump. Car horn honks while I’m walkin’ down the street, I jump. One time I’m sittin’ on this guy with bad luck and a deep bathtub. Few minutes later I climb out, start dryin’ things up. I bend over to grab a towel, and I fart. Toughs fart too.
     But I also jumped. Tough’s don’t jump. Luckily the guy in the tub was lookin’ at somethin’ else.
     I know there’s rumors. Nobody’s ever come and tried them out to my face, but I hear ‘em. Oh, D’Amato’ll dance if you catch him right. Yeah, Sammy’s feet don’t get along with the floor. Ha, he’s the toughest guy in the room, long as there’s no Jack-in-the-Box around.
     What’s my least favorite about all that is, somebody gets it into their head to sneak up and try one of those out behind my back, I might go and prove ‘em right.
     Is that gonna be curtains for Samuzzo D’Amato? Is somebody gonna send the second-best tough in town to punch my card? I ain’t worried. Really, worst that’ll happen is people stop comin’ to me. Go to the second-best. So maybe I gotta beat them there. And to the third and fourth best. Maybe they keep comin’ to me anyway, if all of a sudden only the fifth-best is answering his phone.
     But still. They’ll laugh. I can pop a few guys, but I can’t pop ‘em all. Wherever I go, they’ll be slammin’ doors and honkin’ horns. Look at Sammy dance. They’ll probably give me a nickname. Made it this long without one. I don’t want a damn nickname.
     So I gotta not jump. Gotta teach myself. Don’t goose.
     The toaster throws bread at me. And that fucking click. Two more for the toast pile, two more from the bread.
     I got twenty hours ‘til the meet. I’m gonna need more bread.

     Whole ride out, Longie keeps tellin’ me shit that ain’t got nothin’ to do with me. But what else is new. I could brain him and run his rackets, and nobody’d be the wiser. That’s how much he tells me about it. I don’t ‘cuz I’m just a hell of a guy.
     Credit where it’s due, the dope’s got hustle. He was a bootlegger when we first got together. Working for Luciano. He bought his booze in Canada, shipped it down on boats and trucks. Got it to Rum Row on speedboats, painted black. Real exciting stuff. Meanwhile up in Philly, Waxy Gordon’s boys figure out you can still make grain alcohol, if you got the right credentials. So they have a parlay, next thing you know Longie’s cuttin’ Luciano’s illegal booze with Gordon’s legal booze. Everybody profits.
     See where I fit in there? Neither the fuck do I.
     But every time we’re headin’ for a pick up, or makin’ a drop, he starts givin’ me all the context. Context, that’s what he says. So I says, I don’t need context to knock two heads together. He always liked that. Just not as much as context.
     Somebody in Washington stamped somethin’, and now we don’t need bootleggers no more. That was fine by Longie. He’d moved on. Last year Schultz gets whacked at the chophouse, now everybody’s callin’ Longie our very own Capone. I’m workin’ with him all the while. Not for him. I follow the money, like I said. Just so happens Longie’s got the most of it.
     Sometimes as he’s handin’ me my cut he says gee Sammy, you must feel pretty lucky. So I says yeah, you too. He smiles, but I don’t think he likes that one so much.
     Anyways, tonight we’re goin’ to a meet about labor unions, if you can believe it. Even more complicated than the booze. And Longie’s tellin’ me all about it. Most nights I’m happy to let him run it out. I don’t know if he don’t get out much or he don’t like the sound of my voice or what. Ain’t for me to know. I just gotta listen. Like, really listen. Sometimes he accidentally asks me what I think about anything. I gotta be able to answer. It’s part of the job, way I see it.
     I can’t focus tonight though. I’m thinkin’ about toasters.
     Two days ago, soon as Longie tells me about this meet, Nutelli gives me a tip. That’s one of Longie’s right hand men. Probably got a stupid title, like lieutenant or colonel or some shit. Why Longie wants me on these meets when he’s got a lunk like Nutelli, I’ll never know. But he pays me, so I don’t need to.
     Anyway, Nutelli gives me a tip. I guess he heard some of those rumors about me. I guess he was too smart to laugh at them.
     Gotta admit, the guy had balls even talkin’ to me about it.
     Nutelli says, listen, I’m just givin’ you notice, one professional to another. There’s gonna be a wiry little guy at the meet. Part of the union crew. Like a little dog thinks he’s big, this guy. He likes to jump at you. Make like he’s comin’ for ya. To test people. See if they goose.
     I just look at him for a minute. Tryin’ to figure out is he laughin’ at me or not. I decide he ain’t, so I say whaddya mean.
     Nutelli repeats himself.
     So I says thanks and do me a favor and shut up about it.
     He gets it. Good guy, that guy.
     First thing I do is go out and buy a toaster.
     After two nights and I don’t know how many breads, I’m better. I don’t goose as big. I still goose though. A little bit.
     Maybe too much.
     So I’m thinkin’ about toasters, all the while Longie’s going on and on. Eventually he says SAMMY, you listenin’?
     I jump when he says Sammy. Not a lot. Just a little bit.
     So I says ah, shit.
     Longie says what’s shit? You been listenin’ to me?
     Now, I’m not scared of Longie the way a lot of other folks are. I like the guy. And not just because he pays me. So I’m not lookin’ to hurt his feelings by saying funny you should ask, I ain’t listened to a good goddamn word you said because it ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.
     So I play dumb. Never fails, with these guys. You can get away with anything, you just make ‘em feel halfway smart.
     I says I’m tryin’, boss – they like that too, callin’ em boss – but I don’t know I can wrap my head around this union stuff.
     So he shrugs and gets this little smile on his face. And he says, that’s alright, it’s pretty tough to keep straight, you ain’t got a razor sharp mind.
     So I says, that’s you alright. Razor sharp mind.
     He says, you blowin’ smoke up my ass?
     So I says, you paid me yet?
     He likes that one even more than context, I guess. Rest of the ride is real quiet.

     I’m not one of those guys likes knockin’ heads. You want a psycho, go back to the boardwalk. I do it ‘cause I’m good at it. If it were up to me, every meet would be civil as buyin’ baseball cards. No reason for them to go otherwise. Then again, it’s a good thing they do sometimes. I got no other skills.
     Soon as Longie says we’re here, I get an idea it’s gonna be one of them civil nights. Nothin’ kickin’ off. And here’s me, upset about it. Normally I’d be happy. But normally I ain’t got a wiry little guy wantin’ to goose me.
     It’s a picturehouse. Big white marquee says The General Died At Dawn, like I’m supposed to give a shit.
     Longie, Nutelli and me, we meet the union guys in the lobby. There’s three of them, and the guy in front says he’s called Wilkerson. He calls the lobby a foyer. Pronounces it like he’s got somethin’ against the letter ‘r’. I’m not worried about him.
     Over his shoulders are a big son of a bitch and a wiry little guy. Real slow, I nod to the big son of a bitch. The big son of a bitch nods back, real slow. This guy gets it. I’m not worried about him either.
     It’s Tommy Toothpick over there I got my eye on. Whole time Longie and Wilkerson are schmoozin’, Toothpick’s got my full attention. He’s bouncin’ from toe to toe, hair floppin’ around like it can’t get comfortable. Before too long he sees me starin’ and gives it right back. That’s when he leans on the lever. Gets real still.
     I got his number.
     Here’s the hard part. When’s he gonna pop? He’s gonna wait ‘til I’m close, that’s for sure.
     What’s the move? Do I keep my distance? I can look mean all night, standin’ here. Harder to look mean when you’re backpedaling from a guy small enough the doctor’s still givin’ him lollipops. So it ain’t a matter of ‘if’. Meet breaks, he’s gonna come walkin’ up to me like we’re old chums. Then he’ll try it. Maybe I beat him to it. Jump at him. See who gooses.
     That’s the move. I’m happy with that. So I settle in to wait for the meet to break…
     Longie don’t sound right. He’s talkin’ slow, sayin’ um a lot. Longie ain’t the kinda guy says um a lot. He works real hard to use pretty words. You always know they’re comin’ when the vein on his forehead starts pumpin’.
     I turn to look at what’s got his tongue. Only I think about that big son of a bitch over there. So I turn slow.
     I guess Toothpick was bankin’ on a faster turn. I catch him dartin’ his eyes to Nutelli. Then back to me.
     Ah, shit.

     Now I get why Longie brings me out to his business meetings. When I’m plyin’ my trade I do things clean, like I said earlier. But sometimes clean means messy, long as the mess don’t trail to your front door.
     This is gonna be one of those.
     I grab Longie by the shoulder. He says hey what’s the b-, then I throw him across the room, flat, so he slides like Gehrig makin’ for the platter.
     That’s got me movin’ just like I want. I swing right through the space Longie used to be takin’ up, headin’ straight for Nutelli.
     He’s already reachin’ for his gun.
     I don’t much like guns myself. Or knives. Time you spend learnin’ how to use a gun or a knife right is time you don’t spend on your body. Then somebody slaps your hardware outta your hand, whaddya got then? Whereas, I got big heavy arms. You pull ‘em outta their sockets, I can still swing ‘em at you from the torso.
     I really like it when other people use guns and knives.
     I spin out in front of him, straight on. So the angle’s right. Still movin’, I use one hand to snatch his bean shooter. The other one bunches into a fist. And since my arm ain’t outta it’s socket, there’s a lotta muscle drivin’ it into Nutelli’s face, one, two, three times. Somethin’ snaps and he falls asleep.
     That’s one.
     I keep whirlin’ around and the big son of a bitch is chargin’ me. Turns out slow ain’t a hobby for him. It’s a goddamned lifestyle. Well, not for long.
     He comes shamblin’ with his arms out. Stick some bolts in his neck and he’s ready for Halloween. You get the picture. Here’s a problem. I gotta let him get his hands on me. Only way to get the angle right. But corner of my eye, I see Wilkerson’s fishin’ a piece outta his sock. Toothpick’s got a knife and he’s makin’ a play for Longie.
     Toothpick’s gonna fuck this up.
     Finally, the big son of a bitch makes it to me. He clamps his hands onto my shoulders. I jam the gun up into bottom of his jaw and pull the trigger. The top of his head blows off. Like he had a bright idea for once and his brain couldn’t handle it.
     That’s two.
     I push the big son of a bitch’s body straight back. As he falls, I get a clean shot at Wilkerson. I plug him in the gut, so he don’t die. Longie’s gonna wanna chat.
     Talkin’ of Longie, Toothpick’s practically on top of him.
     So I says hey shithead.
     And the shithead spins around and takes a shot at me.
     It misses. But I hear a ping behind me. Left a fuckin’ hole.
     So I says fuck! Real loud. I guess the wiry little guy took that as my dyin’ breath, ‘cause he turned back to chase Longie, who finally got up off his ass. Boss finally figured there were comfier spots to lay down.
     I take off runnin’. I ain’t gonna catch him though. That little guy can move. I’m too big to move like that.
     I got a gun. But I don’t wanna shoot him in the back. I’m tryin’ to make a, whaddya call it, a scene. Wilkerson might call it a tableau. Yeah, I know that word. Ain’t as dumb as I look.
     Point is, I gotta wrap this up in a bow. Luciano’s got some cops in his pocket. Longie calls Luciano, Luciano calls his boys in blue. Long as there’s somethin’ pretty to write, they can make a case go away. Long investigation’s somethin’ else.   
     I had it all set up. Angles were just right. Some guys makin’ a deal that went four bodies south. All I had to do was catch Toothpick right in the neck with a bullet. Simple.
     Course he goes and blows it.
     I run outside. Nobody’s out tonight, which is nice.
     It’s a quiet part of town. Well lit, too. Those things ain’t so nice.
     Longie and Toothpick are makin’ a hell of a racket. They’re clompin’ down the center of the street, hootin’ and hollerin’.          
     I gotta think this reflects on me. I got played. Nutelli tells me keep an eye on the wiry little guy. ‘Cause he heard those fuckin’ rumors. So what do I do but keep an eye. I’m so focused on Toothpick, I tune out the double-cross.      
     If only I didn’t goose so easy.
     Ah, well.
     I run back inside. Grab the car key outta Nutelli’s pocket. Wilkerson’s still screamin’, clutchin’ his belly like that’ll help.
     I says to him, quit screamin’, you’ll live longer. Who knows if that’s true. But it stops him screamin’.
     I go back out. Start up the car.
     I look up as I’m guidin’ it out into the street. Hell if Longie still ain’t givin’ Toothpick a workout. Gotta laugh at that. Night’s goin’ to shit, but that’s pretty funny.
     If Toothpick knew he had a Packard on his ass, he never let on. Never tried to turn around. Last thing I see of him as he’s slidin’ under the front bumper was the back of his head, hair floppin’ every which way like it’s trying to save itself.
     He went under the first tire like normal. When he went under the second, I guess his ribs caved or somethin’ ‘cause the car dipped pretty hard before he was out from under.
     The car had good breaks. Lucky for Longie.
     I says to him, hey Longie!
     He just keeps runnin’ for another couple of yards.
     So I call his name again.
     He stops and turns around. I never seen him so white.
     All he says is what the hell, Sammy. I liked that car.
     So I says I woulda thought you’d like it more than ever now.
     He just throws his hands up.
     So I says you wanna talk to Wilkerson or what?
     I make him walk back to the picturehouse. I gotta get rid of the car. First I double check the wiry little guy’s dead. He ain’t quite, so I give him a face massage. Now he is. Hit and run. Real tragic.
     Then I remember that other hole in the picturehouse, the one in a place don’t make any sense for my tableau. I gotta get rid of the car, then I gotta do fuckin’ renovations. I’ll tell ya, if it ain’t one thing, it’s always another.

     Couple hours later I walk back in and Longie says hey Sammy, break this guy’s knees.
     So I go step on Wilkerson’s knees. Then I say to Longie what, this guy not talkin’?
     And he says oh he’s talkin’ alright, he’s spillin’ his guts. Then he laughs and points to Wilkerson’s tummy leakin’ all over the foyer carpet.
     I laugh because I ain’t been paid yet. 
     And he tells me the whole fuckin’ story. Basic power play. Wilkerson was workin’ for Capone – the real Chicago Capone, not Atlantic City’s Capone – but figured he could do better on his own. He bounces out to Jersey, gets knocked around the casino front. Wants to see how can he get a piece of anything, everybody says you gotta see Atlantic City’s Capone. That’d be Longie. Well, Wilkerson wasn’t too pleased about that. Figures he’ll just off the boss. Not the brightest.
     I’m not really listenin’. I’m puttin’ the finishing touches on my tableau. Bustin’ knuckles, smearin’ blood, thinkin’ about how I got fuckin’ played.
     After Longie hears everything he wants to, he says to me how should we do it.
     So I says let him bleed out.
     He says what if he doesn’t and he’s alive when the cops show up.
     I says fair enough. So I put my hand over Wilkerson’s face for a few minutes.
     I wipe my prints off Nutelli’s gun with my sleeve. Every once in a while they get somebody on those. Better safe than sorry, I say. Then I put the gun back in Nutelli’s hand.
     Anybody asks, we were never there.

     We’re walkin’ back towards Longie’s place, thinkin’. It’s still mostly night, but day’s startin’ to get some funny ideas behind the trees. Finally I says to Longie what I gotta say sooner or later. If I wanna keep callin’ myself a professional. I says to him I’m real sorry about that boss, I shoulda seen that comin’.
     He says to me nevermind that. I should have too.
     So I says that’s awful nice to say, but that’s not your job. It’s mine.
     He says no, really. I shoulda known something was up. I mean, I know all the guys in the union here, but I’d never seen that Wilkerson character in my life.
     So I says what the hell do you mean, we go to a meeting with a guy you’ve never seen and you don’t tip me?
     He says how was I supposed to do that?
     So I says gimme an elbow or something. Jesus.
     We’re both real quiet for a while. Then he says to me I really liked that car.
     He didn’t say anythin’ about Nutelli, so I didn’t bring it up.
     When we got back he paid me in small bills.

     By the time I get home it’s tomorrow. I dump my bags out on the table and wash my hands.
     I fold my arms and size it up. My project for the day. Six loaves of bread. The pre-sliced kind. I don’t buy bread hasn’t been pre-sliced.
     I open ‘em all up. Make a brand new bread pile. Put two pre-sliced slices in the toaster holes. Lean on the lever.
     Then I just wait.