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One Pocket Man

A novel by Albert J. Betz


Part two of the exclusive serialized publication of One-Pocket Man, a new novel by member Al Betz.




Danny Bonto is a mid-level enforcer in the Chicago mob who has outlived his usefulness. He learns this when the Feds let him listen to an undercover tape of his boss arranging to have him killed. In exchange for his providing them with much damaging information, the Feds move him to Philadelphia and set him up in a poolroom where he quickly runs afoul of the Philadelphia mob. He hires a teen-ager to work in the poolroom whom he takes under his wing and teaches one-pocket, the crème de la crème of pocket billiard games. 



Albert J. Betz is a native Philadelphian and a veteran of the United States Army Intelligence Corps, deployed primarily in Japan. He also lived in Chicago for six years before returning to his Philadelphia roots where he is an avid poker and one-pocket player.

For more information, or to purchase this book, contact Al Betz:

Keep your banking lanes open.

                           One-Pocket Player's Credo


2. Bonto Starts His Criminal Career


For the next two weeks, Danny lived at the motel.  Every day from eight-thirty in the morning to four or five in the afternoon, three federal agents questioned him about his activities with the Torinos.  They started with his early years as if they were writing his biography.  Every time he told them about something he did, they made him tell them who was with him, where he did it and when.  On those occasions when he had disposed of a body, he had to give them enough details to enable them to recover it if possible.

         One day, after the questioning was over, Baxter and some of the other agents were sitting around drinking Danny’s imported beer.  One of the younger agents popped a Beck’s and said to Danny.  “I’m curious about something.  You told us about your early days with the Torino family, how you got joined up with them and everything, but you never told us how you really got started, how you first got into crime before you hooked up with them.”

         Danny looked over at Baxter.  “Does my immunity still apply if I answer this guy?” he said.

         Baxter shrugged.  “Sure.  The recorder ain’t runnin’” Baxter said.

         “Just checking” Danny said.  He reached over and grabbed himself a fresh beer.  “I guess you could say my first venture into crime began when I was eight.”

         Young Danny Bonto loved comic books.  He devoured them as fast as he could afford to buy them and read them.  He traded them all over the neighborhood.  There were six or seven other kids who loved comic books too, and Danny traded with all of them.  Still, he couldn’t get enough.  One day he went to the drug store, his usual source of new material, and bought what he thought were six comic books.  Only after he got home did he find that a seventh book had been shoved inside another and he had inadvertently walked out with more than he had paid for.  At first, good Catholic boy that he was, educated in the Chicago Catholic school system, he felt guilty as hell and had every intention of returning the extra book the first chance he got.  However, this had happened just before a very severe snow storm hit the Chicagoland area, and it was four days before he got a chance to go back to the store.  Every day that went by found him feeling less and less guilty, so that by the end of the fourth day, he had no guilt left.  In fact, he was now dwelling on how easy it had been to take the extra comic book in the first place.  The next time he went back to the drug store, instead of confessing his guilt and paying for the stolen comic book, he bought two more and shoved a third into one of the others.  This, too, went unnoticed and by the end of the month, he was slipping comic books under his heavy wool coat on a regular basis.

         “Unfortunately, I never got caught” Danny told the agents.  “Because if I had, I might never have seen how easy stealing was.  It wasn’t long before I was shoplifting several days a week.  I gradually worked my way up from candy bars and comic books to transistor radios and pocket knives.  I even recruited my best friend, Max Vogel, to help me by distracting the shopkeepers with questions or purchases.  Many times Max came up with the plans.  It was Max’s idea to break in after hours and take stuff we couldn’t hide under our coats, like TVs and stereos.  Max’s uncle was a small time thief who hung around with the local wise guys and would pull a stick-up or burglary with them now and then.  He wasn’t a made guy, but he was connected.  He got on the mob payroll, stole for the mob, and collected a paycheck.  In fact, he was the outlet we used for the stuff we stole.  We paid him a twenty percent commission.  Once, and this was years later, I think I was about fifteen, Max and me and another kid named Andy broke into a tire warehouse and stole about fifty white-wall tires.  We would have taken more, but we couldn’t get any more in Andy’s pickup truck.  Anyway, the next day we told Max’s uncle about the tires, and he borrowed a truck and hauled them off.  I figured we should have gotten about ten bucks per tire.  Max’s uncle, Sid his name was, only paid us five bucks apiece.  I bitched about it, but Sid told me tough shit, that if I didn’t like it I could find my own fence.”

         Young Danny Bonto was not thrilled about this treatment from Sid.  Max wasn’t very keen on it either, so he came up with another plan.  The following week Danny and Max went to a small appliance store and Danny bought his mother a blender for Christmas.

         “I don’t remember what year it was, but blenders were the hottest new thing that year” Danny went on.

         They waited until the store was near closing for the night and Danny snuck into the employee’s rest room and hid in one of the stalls.  Less than twenty minutes later, the manager locked up the store with Danny inside and he let Max in the back door.  There was no alarm on this exit because there was a steel bar on the door suspended across the doorjamb in brackets bolted to the wall.  To get in from the outside would require breaking down the door.  From the inside, however, opening the door was easy.  Just lift off the bar and unlock the deadbolt.

         “Anyway, me and Max made off with two cases of blenders.  The following day, we called Sid and told him we had a dozen or so blenders for him to sell for us.  He came by Max’s house some time later, picked up eleven blenders, and put them in his car.  We had held out one blender.  This was Max’s idea.”

         Danny and Max suspected that Sid was cheating them on what he said he was getting for the stolen merchandise, and they had decided on a way to verify their suspicions.

         “Uncle or no uncle, if Sid was fuckin’ us, we were going to fuck him back” Danny explained triumphantly.

         On the day that Sid picked up the blenders, Max had arranged for their friend Andy to pick him and Danny up and follow Sid in his car.  Sid never looked in his rear view mirror to see if he was being followed, and led them to a large appliance discount store on the south side.  Danny made a note of the address and even had the nerve to peek through the store window to see Sid in heavy conversation with a very fat black man wearing a vest over a filthy white shirt.  The fat man reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick roll of bills.  He counted out a number of them and handed them to Sid, but Danny could not determine how much it was.

         That night he and Max met with Sid to collect their proceeds from the theft.

         “I did better on the blenders than I did with the tires” Sid said.  “I got ten bucks apiece.  Ten times eleven is a hunnert n’ ten, less my 20 percent is eighty-eight bucks.  He counted out four twenties and a ten into Max’s hand.

         “Keep the change” he said magnanimously.

         The following day Danny and Max had Andy drive them back to the south side discount store.  Andy and Max waited in the truck while Danny went into the store with a blender tucked under his arm.

         “My buddy Sid forgot one of the blenders when he came by yesterday” he said, setting it on the counter.  He didn’t say anything more, just waited with an anticipatory look on his face.  Inside he was scared to death.  Without saying a word, the fat man reached into his pocket and withdrew his roll.  He peeled off a twenty, handed it to Danny and turned back to work.

         Danny and Max sat in silence during the entire drive back to their neighborhood.  Andy dropped them off at Max’s house and they went up to Max’s bedroom.

         “That thievin’ fuck” Max said, throwing his coat on the bed.  “Twenty percent ain’t good enough for him, he’s gotta fuckin’ steal another eighty-eight bucks from us.”  He had done the calculations in his head on the ride back.  “God knows how much he got us for over the years.”

         “Question is” Danny said.  “What are we gonna do about it?”

         “I’ll tell you this.  If he wasn’t my mother’s brother, I’d take a fuckin’ baseball bat to him to teach him a lesson” Max said.

         “We’ll figure out a way to get back at Sid” Danny said.  “What’s more important, is what’re we gonna do with our stuff from here on out?  It’s a cinch I ain’t doin’ no more business with him.”

         “I’ve been thinkin’ about that” Max said, “And we may be able to kill two birds with one stone.”

         One of the other agents popped a beer and said “Sounds like you and Max were pretty close.  How’d you get hooked up with him?”

         Danny laughed.  “The first time I ever met him, he saved my ass.  I had never seen him before the day I was in Wiederman’s hardware store and had just shoved a combination lock in my coat pocket when one of the store clerks grabbed my wrist.  He had seen me snatch the lock and was marching me to the back of the store, probably so old man Wiederman could call the cops.  I tried to get loose, of course, but he had a pretty good grip on me.  That’s when Max came out of nowhere and hit him across the back of the hand with an adjustable wrench.  He yelped and let go and Max and me ran like hell.  I think we were about eleven.  The store clerk didn’t know our names, but we sure as shit never went back there again.”

         It took nearly a month, but Max finally came up with a plan.  “Come on up to my room” he told Danny.  “I want to show you something.”

         When they got to the room, Max closed the door and hung his coat in the usual place, thrown across the bed.  Reaching under his mattress, he pulled out two thirty-eight-caliber revolvers.

         “Where’d you get those?” Danny said excitedly.

         “Where else?” Max said.  “From Uncle Sid.”

         “How much did they cost?”

         “Twenty bucks each.”

         “Hey, that’s damn cheap.  I thought even the shitty ones went for over a hundred” Danny said, reaching for the nearest.

         “They do” Max said.  “I’m only renting these.”

         “How long’d you rent ‘em for?”

         “Just a couple of weeks.  I told Sid we were going to stick up a warehouse that has a night watchman.  I said we would steal the watchman’s car and load it with stuff.  He thinks he’s gonna have a carload of stolen TVs to sell.”

         “Well that’s not such a bad idea” Danny said.

         “I thought so too” Max said.  “But I’ve added a little twist I know you’ll like.”

         “What’s that?”

         “Suppose we tell him we stole the TVs with another guy who already has an outlet for them, but we’ve held a couple back for ourselves.  We’ll offer to sell him one for, say, fifty bucks.  I’ll offer him the TV because I happen to know his TV just died.  If it was his stereo or refrigerator, I figure we’d offer him a stereo or a refrigerator.  Anyway, Sid won’t be able to resist buying a hot TV for next to nothin’.  Then, we let a few weeks go by and place an anonymous tip to the cops that they might want to search his apartment for a stolen TV.  Then, surprise, surprise, his TV has the same serial number as one that’s been stolen.”

         “That’s just brilliant” Danny said with a scowl.  “Then when the cops question him he says ‘Oh, my nephew and his buddy sold it to me’.  Fuckin’ brilliant.”

         “No” Max said, “That’s not what’s brilliant.  What’s brilliant is we BUY the fuckin’ TV from that fat guy on the south side.  I’m willing to bet that everything in his store is hot.  We’ll be selling Sid a TV from a job done nobody knows where by nobody who knows who.”

         “Say.  Now that is fuckin’ brilliant.  There’s no way to connect us to the theft ‘cause we didn’t do it.  But what if the cops come askin’ us where we got the TV?  What do we do then?”

         “Simple.  We don’t know nothin’ about no TV.  Whichever of us buys the TV pays cash and wears some kind of disguise so we can’t be picked out of a lineup.  I think it should be me since the fat guy’s seen you once already.  I doubt he’ll make the connection, but you can’t be too careful.  We just gotta be sure we never touch that TV without gloves on.  Then it’s just Sid’s word against ours, and since the cops will know when the TV got stolen, chances are we’ll have an alibi.”

         “Now that really is brilliant” Danny said.  “And that’ll pay Sid back for robbin’ us all this time.  But what if he gets probation or a short sentence and comes after us?”

         “What, are you kidding?  Sid come after us?  He’s afraid of his own shadow.  He’ll never come after us.  And if he tries to get some of his wise-ass buddies to help him, they’ll laugh him off the street.  I guarantee you’ll never hear word one about it.”

         “What about that warehouse job with the night watchman’s car?” Danny asked.

         “What warehouse job?” Max said, and they both laughed so hard they rolled on the bed.

         They put Max’s plan into effect the following day.

         “So what happened?” the agent said.

         “Nothin’” Danny replied.

         “Nothin’?  What do you mean nothin’?”

         “I mean nothin’.  Nobody ever followed up on the tip.  As far as I know, nobody ever picked Sid up for questioning.  And I’m pretty sure Max and me would’ve heard about it if they did.”

         “So you never got even with Sid for rippin’ you off?”

         “I didn’t say that.  I just said the TV plan didn’t work.  What did happen was we told Sid we were keeping his guns.  At the time we told him that, we made sure the three of us were alone and that he could see we had ‘em on us.  That was my idea.  Max was sure Sid would never do nothin’ about it, and he was right.”

         “So how did you get even with Sid?” the agent continued.

            “I’ll get to that later” Danny said.  “You need to know more about Max to get an idea of why me and him never got caught stealin’ while we were together.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, Max was the brains of our little group, which sometimes included Andy and some other guys when we needed some help.  Max was the planner.  He planned every little detail of every job.  And he was a reader.  He was never without a fuckin’ book.  All the shit that went into his plans came from books.  Detective novels.  All that shit about fingerprints and forensics, Max picked up from books.”

         “How did you get hooked up with the Torino family?” the questioning agent said.  “Stealing and dealing in stolen goods are crimes, sure.  But how about the serious stuff?  You never said if any of the killings you told us about was your first.”

         “I wasn’t finished” Danny said.  “I just wanted to let you know how I got started.  Tell you what my mind set was, so to speak.  My first killing was what you might call a crime of passion.  Max and me continued to steal stuff, same as before.  As we got older, we got into shoplifting nice clothes.  This was before stores had those electronic detectors.  We even broke into a few places.  But my first killing was over a girl.”

         Danny Bonto was sixteen and was going steady with Lorrie DeSalvo, a cute, well-built seventeen year old from the local Catholic girls high school.  She was Danny’s first true love.  They saw each other every day, and when Danny could borrow a car from his father or a friend, he and Lorrie would park down by Lake Michigan “watching the submarine races.”  They got into some pretty heavy petting, but Danny was much too afraid of losing Lorrie to try anything more daring.  One day he and Max were on their way to Lorrie’s house when he saw her come out her front door with one of the older guys in the neighborhood, Pat Delaney.  Delaney was eighteen and had dropped out of school the year before to go to work loading produce in a warehouse.  This didn’t pay much, but since he still lived with his parents, whatever he earned was his to spend as he chose.  This plus the few odd dollars he made selling cases of stolen produce put him financially much better off than his peers.  Since he wasn’t afraid to spend his money on the neighborhood girls, and coincidently, since he was much bigger and better looking than Danny, stealing Lorrie was no great feat.

         Danny was furious, and for once, he started charging across the street to start a fight with Delaney.  He needed reminding that he was never very good with his fists.  Max was smart enough to know that a direct confrontation was likely to earn Danny a black eye and maybe some missing teeth.  He grabbed Danny and was able to talk some sense into him.

         “You’ll never beat him in a fair fight.  Besides” Max reminded him, “Delaney carries a gun.”

         Whether he would use it or not was never a consideration for the sixteen-year-old.  As far as Danny was concerned, if he had it, he would use it.

         “I was so fuckin’ mad I couldn’t see straight.  But looking back on it, I always blamed him, never her.  I swore I’d get even, and I did.”

         Danny followed Delaney whenever he could, even cutting school some days to see what his habits were, when he went to work, when he came home, what route he took, where he hung out at night.  After two weeks, he came up with a plan.  Two or three days a week, instead of walking straight home, Delaney stopped by a vacant house just off Kedzie Street to pick up some heroin to feed his habit.

         “In those days” Danny said, “heroin was the drug of choice.  Crack hadn’t been invented yet.”

         Delaney would walk through the house to the back yard where he’d score for his next hit.  One Saturday morning, when he knew the house would be empty, Danny checked the place out.  It had a hallway down one side that led past what once were the living room and dining room.  It went straight through to the yard in the rear and Delaney always went through the hallway to get to the yard.  Danny got himself a three-foot length of three-quarter inch steel reinforcing bar and hid it in the living room.  The following Tuesday he followed Delaney to the house.  When he went through to the yard, Danny slipped into the living room and retrieved his rebar.  When Delaney came back through the house, Danny let him pass the dining room door.

         “I remember getting a knee in the fuckin’ shoulder during a sandlot football game when I was a kid.  I couldn’t use my arm for a few minutes.  In those days we couldn’t afford helmets, let alone shoulder pads” Danny told the agents.

         As Delaney passed the doorway, Danny stepped into the hall and brought the bar down on Delaney’s right shoulder with everything he had.

         “I wanted to make damn sure he couldn’t grab his gun, so I had to drop him with my first shot” he said.

         The rebar did its job.  The blow knocked Delaney down, causing him to twist to his right as he fell.

         “I can still see the shock on his face for the split second before I hit him again” Danny said.

         The second blow broke Delaney’s wrist as he lifted his left hand to ward off the bar, which also fractured the front of his skull.  The next four, all in the head, littered the hallway with brains and blood.

         “I was wearing gloves, so I wasn’t worried about fingerprints.  I remember reaching over and lifting his gun, his watch and his wallet.  I made sure I got the bag of heroin he just bought.  I dragged his body into the dining room and got out of there as quick as I could.  I remember that I wanted to make it look like a mugging.  I knew that if I didn’t, the cops would look pretty hard for another motive, and I’d be at the front of the line.

         “And you know what was funny?” Danny went on.  “He was left-handed.  If I hadn’t hit him so hard, he could have drawn his gun with his left hand.”

         Danny’s plan must have been good, because the police never even questioned him about the murder, and no one, except maybe Max, ever suspected that Danny could have done it.

         Since the murder was committed in the middle of a cold Chicago winter, it took three weeks for the odor of Delaney’s decaying body to be noticed and reported.

         “I don’t need to tell you I was sweating bullets for weeks afterwards.  In those days, I watched enough TV to believe that the cops always solved the case.  What a laugh.  I never told nobody, neither.  I guess I was too scared.  But Max must have said something to somebody, because some time after that was when I started hanging around with the real badasses in the neighborhood.  They began showing me some respect I hadn’t seen before.  I don’t remember who approached who; it kind of happened naturally.  I’m sure I would have wound up with them sooner or later anyway.”

         Baxter interrupted.  “I keep hearing how tight you and Max were, but you never mentioned him in connection with the Torino’s.  Did he go straight?”

         “No” Danny said, taking a breath.  “He got killed.  After we got our hands on the guns from Sid and Delaney, we graduated to armed robbery.  We started holding up gas stations, liquor stores, convenience stores, stuff like that.  By then we had cars, so we could get away quick after a job, and we always pulled our stickups far from the west side where we lived.  Sometimes we’d even go into Indiana or Wisconsin.  Anyway, one night close to midnight, we were sticking up a liquor store in Gary, Indiana.  We had the money and were on our way out when the guy behind the counter pulls out a sawed off shotgun.  He must have been held up quite a few times before, because he never hesitated.  As soon as the shotgun cleared the counter, he pulled the triggers.  Max must have seen this out of the corner of his eye, ‘cause he turned around and shot the guy.  That was just when the guy shot him.  They killed each other.  I was almost to the door, but I saw the whole thing.  I went back and checked on Max, but the guy had shot him square in the chest with both barrels.  One look and I knew he was dead.  I grabbed Max’s car keys and got the hell out of there.  It was the day before his eighteenth birthday.

         “Things were never the same after that.  Max and me were closer than brothers.  I guess that’s when I began hanging around with the local outfit guys.  I had no friends besides Max, and I was already so much into stick-ups and burglary that I naturally gravitated toward the wise guys.  It was especially easy because of the Delaney hit.  They gave me respect when I needed it most.”

         The conversation lagged and everybody took a sip of his beer.  At Baxter’s request, Danny turned over the car and house keys and his signet ring.  Surprisingly, parting with the ring was harder than giving up the car.  He had worn the ring for thirty years.  He’d driven the car for thirty days.

         “Don’t worry” Baxter said.  “You’ll get the car back or one exactly like it once we turn you loose.  We need it for someone to discover your body in at the O’Hare long term parking lot.”

         Baxter had explained that the Bureau would arrange for a citizen to call the local cops to report a strong unpleasant odor coming from a new white Cadillac.  The cops would impound the car and a pet reporter would write a story about Danny’s body having been found in the trunk.  The car would just disappear and a closed casket funeral mass and a burial would be arranged at the cemetery of Danny’s choice.  The Feds would even pay for the funeral.  Danny would get his car back early on the morning of the day he would drive to his new city of residence.

         “What about my fuckin’ ring?” Danny asked.

         “Unless Maretti insists on keeping it, you’ll get it back after our guy uses it to prove that he whacked you.  Everybody recognizes that ring, so convincing Maretti should be easy.  If he says he wants it, our guy will say he wants to keep it as a souvenir of his first big piece of work.  We don’t expect it to be a problem.”

         “I got a house full of furniture and shit.  What about that?”

         “How much is there?”

         “It’s a three-bedroom house.  Some of the stuff I really want to keep, especially the paintings, tools and my jazz collection” Danny said.

         “We’ll have a distant relative come by and cart it off in a moving van” Baxter said.

         “I don’t have any distant relatives” Danny said.

         “You do now” Baxter said.  “We’ll have one of our people show up at your funeral and claim your house and furniture.  We’ll ship it to a storage facility until you find a new place to live and we’re sure no one is watching it.  I really don’t think this will be a problem.  Nobody is going to doubt that you’re dead, and you don’t have anything of enough value for any of the Torinos to care what happens to it, except your Caddie, so we’ll have it ‘repossessed’.”

         “You’re probably right about nobody coming to look for me.  You know more about this shit than I do” Danny said.

         It was a few days later when the young agent, his name was Scott Grevey, said to Danny.  “So how did you get even with Sid?”

         Danny laughed.  “That was much simpler than Max’s TV scheme.  Me and another guy named Anthony ‘borrowed’ Sid’s car one night.  Before we returned the car, Max had a spare set of keys made.  Max had found the mythical warehouse we had told Sid about.”

         Actually, they had stolen Sid’s car just at midnight a week after returning it.  Danny and Max had used Andy’s truck to keep tabs on the warehouse watchmen’s routines for nearly a week, but now they needed Sid’s car for another purpose.  Invariably, the watchman coming on would pull his car up to the gate, blow his horn and the guy going off would open the gate to let him in.  They would exchange a few words, the watchman whose shift was ending would get in his car and drive off and the new guy would close and lock the gate behind him.  On the night of the robbery, the temperature was below zero with a biting wind coming in off the lake.  The guy going off closed the gate but didn’t lock it while they went inside the building to have their discussion.  He had done the same thing the previous two nights.  With the gate unlocked, Danny and Anthony let themselves in and hid behind the building.  A minute later, the new guy let the old guy out and locked the gate behind him.  That’s when Anthony stuck his gun in his back.  And that’s when Danny got the idea to stick it to Sid.

         The three robbers were wearing ski masks, as much for warmth as for secrecy.  They tied the watchman’s hands behind his back and stretched a piece of duct tape over his mouth.  Anthony lifted the guy’s keys and tossed them to Danny who opened the gate while Max went around the corner for Sid’s car.  The original plan had called for Danny to blindfold the watchman, but as Max drove onto the lot, Danny made sure the watchman got a good look at the license plates.  Then they locked him in the guardhouse, taped his feet together, and blindfolded him with more duct tape.

         “I told the guy we’d leave his car in the Jewel parking lot around the corner” Danny said.

         “It worked just the way Max had laid it out three years earlier.  After we took care of the watchman, we loaded the watchman’s and Sid’s car full of blue jeans, relocked the gate and took off.  We drove both vehicles to a garage that Anthony rented and unloaded them, except for one box of jeans, which we left in Sid’s trunk.  I tried to pick them as close to Sid’s size as I could.  Then we dropped off the watchman’s car and returned Sid’s car to where he had parked it.  We were only gone about an hour.  The cops picked Sid up the next day.  He went up for six months.  It would have been more, but even though we wore masks, the description the watchman gave of me and Anthony wasn’t even close to what Sid looked like, so they only got him for receiving stolen goods.”

         “Didn’t you ever get picked up on any of these shenanigans?” Grevey asked.

         “Only once, on another warehouse job.  Anthony and me had done a similar job with another guy I didn’t know, but Anthony said was okay.  This job was this guy’s idea, so the three of us went in on it together.  The guy worked in the warehouse.  Turned out, even though we wore masks, the guy got recognized by the second shift supervisor.  The cops picked him up and he gave the two of us up for a lighter sentence.  Since this was my first conviction, I got a suspended sentence.  After that I never did another job without it meeting Max’s seven rules.”

         “This I gotta hear” Grevey said.  “What are the seven rules?”

         “First, never do a job with anybody you don’t know real fuckin’ well yourself.  That means, don’t rely on somebody else’s word” Danny was ticking them off on his fingers.  “Second, always have a plan.  Max was a fanatic about this, and it must have stuck with me.  ‘Plan, plan, plan’ he used to say, ‘then plan some more.’  Third, have more than one way out if things get tight.  Max even used to plan for things that could go wrong.  Fourth, always wear gloves and masks.  This even applies if you’re on a night job and you’re not likely to be seen.  I remember bitchin’ to Max about this in the summertime when a mask can get pretty damned warm.  You can’t be matched to a fingerprint if you don’t leave any.  And by the way, always wipe your bullets off before loading them.  You may not have time to pick up your spent shells, and you wouldn’t want the cops to pick up a fingerprint from a spent casing.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  About the mask.  You can’t be picked out of a lineup if the witness never saw your face.  Fifth, use a stolen car whenever possible and ditch it first chance you get.  And when you do get rid of it, make sure it’s nowhere near where you live.  Max would steal a car and have me meet him at some strip mall I never fuckin’ heard of.  Then we’d park my car and take the stolen car on the job.  After the job, we’d come back and change cars.  The strip mall was never far from the place we’d do the job.  That was another one of Max’s rules.  Never drive the stolen car any farther than you have to.  And, oh, yeah.  Sixth, if you get picked up, never, never, never say anything except ‘Let me talk to my lawyer’.  And last, get a good lawyer and memorize his phone number.”

         Grevey said “I can’t argue with any of those rules.  Did you ever have occasion to put any of them to use?  Aside from the stolen car rules that is?”

         “Shit, yes” Danny said, and went on to tell a story about one of his jobs gone awry.

         “We had broken into the offices of a large building contractor.  I had been tipped that there was a wall safe in the boss’s office with a lot of cash in it.  It was a Thursday night and their payday was Friday.

         “We didn’t have any idea how we were going to get into the safe, but my tipster told me that it wasn’t too big.  He said that if we could get it out of the wall, we could carry it off.

         “We went in at nine-thirty at night.  We had no idea how long it would take, so Max had allowed ten hours.  We left all of the tools that we thought we might need in our stolen car with the idea of looking at this safe to see what would be required to get it out of the wall.  We even had a hand truck.  Then we’d go back out to the car, get the tools we’d need, and come back in and go to work.

         “Well, Max insisted we wear our masks when we went in to look at the safe, even though it was so late and there was no night watchman.  And remember, this was long before the days of security cameras.  So we go strollin’ the fuck into this guy’s office and here he is bangin’ some broad on his office sofa.  I don’t know who was more surprised, him or us, but he was quicker on the draw.  Soon as he sees us, he grabs a gun out of his desk drawer and starts blasting away.  Fortunately for me and Max, soon as we seen him, we start hightailing it down the hall and out the door.  He never hit us, but he sure left a lot of bullet holes in his walls.  I don’t need to tell you, he scared the shit out of us.

         “After we got back to where we parked the car, we get in and get the hell out of there.  About ten minutes later, Max starts laughin’.  At first I look at him like he’s nuts.  Then I start laughin’ too.  We both get to laughin’ so hard I had to pull over.  Anyway, we never heard anything more about that blown job.  Max swore it was because the guy and the broad couldn’t give the cops a description of us, thanks to the masks.  I told Max I thought it was because if the guy reported it, it would come out that he had been banging the broad in his office.  I guess that’s just how my mind worked compared to Max’s.”

         “Did you ever kill anybody on any of these jobs?” Grevey asked.

         “Never.  In fact, we never even fired our guns.  Probably because Max planned the jobs so good” Danny said.

         “How about after Max died?” Grevey pursued.

         “Not even then.  I got into scrapes over turf or broads, even got shot at, but nothin’ serious ever came of it.”

         “Did you ever have any problem on any of your hits?  Anybody ever figure out what was goin’ on and try to take you out first?”

         “I never did have anybody try to beat me to the punch, but I did have one guy, Frankie Ruppo, who knew he was on a hit list and kept two bodyguards.”

         “That must have been hairy.  I know you got to him, because I heard you tell us about it.  How did you solve the problem of the bodyguards?  Did you just kill them too?”

         “I guess I could have, and Maretti said he didn’t give a shit one way or the other, but I couldn’t do it like that.  Waltz in with a shotgun or a MAC 10 and start blowing people away?  How crude can you get?  Sounds like one of those fuckin’ Asian crime movies where the body count’s never below fifty.  Besides, one of Ruppo’s bodyguards was Gene Restonin, a nice guy and a hell of a pool player.  No, thanks.  Give me a little more credit than that.  Even us hit men take pride in our work.  Anyway, let me tell you about the Ruppo job.”

         Ruppo owned a condominium on the seventeenth floor of a high-rise building that had a good security system and a doorman.  He had a Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows and did most of his business from its dark interior.  Restonin was his driver and took the car home with him every night.  Every weekday morning he would pick Ruppo up in the basement garage of his building and take him wherever he wanted to go during the day.  His bodyguards always accompanied Ruppo and he never had lunch at the same restaurant more than once a month.  Although he was married, he was rarely seen outside, even with his wife.  When Ruppo was done for the day, Restonin would pull into his building’s garage and drop off Ruppo and the other bodyguard and head on home.  Ruppo and the remaining bodyguard would take the elevator up to the seventeenth floor and the two of them would spend the night in Ruppo’s condo.  The following morning, Ruppo would send the bodyguard down to the lobby for a newspaper, coffee and some pastries for breakfast.

         “One day I slipped the doorman fifty bucks for filling me in on this routine and letting me into the building” Danny explained.  “Then I followed Ruppo’s car all the next day just to verify for myself that the fuckin’ doorman knew what he was talking about.”

         “Why couldn’t you just sneak in while the doorman was busy with something else and save yourself fifty bucks?” Grevey interjected.

         “And how would I find out what floor he was on or what his apartment number was?” Danny retorted.  Grevey looked embarrassed.

         “Wait a minute” said Baxter, who had been quiet up until then.  “Just like that, the doorman takes fifty bucks to jeopardize his job and let you into the building?”

         “Let’s say he was reluctant at first, but when I explained that I knew where he lived, what kind of car he drove, how many kids he had and how old they were, he got the message and he decided to go along.”

         “I see” Baxter said.  “You’re a real prince.”

         Danny looked up at Baxter and grinned.  “Anyway, I came back early the next day, and sure enough, quarter of eight, here comes the other bodyguard down to the lobby for coffee and the Trib.”

         The following morning at seven-thirty, Danny was crouched at the head of the stairwell on the seventeenth floor.  The stairwell was at the end of the corridor and Danny had propped the door open a quarter of an inch to give himself a full view of the hallway.  At ten past eight, he watched the bodyguard leave Ruppo’s apartment.

         “Fourteen minutes later by my watch, back he comes with two containers of coffee, a white paper bag and a newspaper tucked under his arm.  He taps on the door three times with the toe of his shoe and someone opens it from the inside and in he goes.  The next morning I’m back in the stairwell, and eight thirty, here he comes again.”

         Danny waited twelve minutes, donned a ski mask, opened a white pastry bag he had brought with him and went to Ruppo’s door.  He held a silenced revolver along his leg.  He tapped on the door with his shoe just as he had seen the bodyguard do and made sure the top of the pastry bag extended above the spy lens in the door.  Sure enough, a few seconds later someone opened the door.  Danny took a split second to be sure it was Ruppo and fired one bullet into his chest and another into his forehead.  Then, with a handkerchief in his hand, he engaged the lock on the door, closed it quietly and shoved the pistol into his waistband.  Walking rapidly to the stairwell, he buttoned his coat and took the stairs down to the sixteenth floor.  He then rode the elevator to the lobby, threw the crumpled pastry bag into a waste bin and calmly strode out of the building for a short walk to Michigan Avenue to hail a cab for home.

         “Weren’t you afraid the doorman would identify you?” Grevey asked.

         “What’s to identify?  He don’t know my fuckin’ name and the best he can do is give the cops a description of me and maybe pick me out of a mug book.  Assuming all this, how long do you think he’d keep his cushy job once the other condo owners found out he gave me the run of the building for a lousy fifty bucks?  And don’t forget, he knows I killed Ruppo.  Do you really think he’s gonna tell the cops and risk me comin’ back for him?”

         Ten days after the Feds began questioning Danny, Baxter came in with a dozen doughnuts and a copy of the Chicago Tribune with a headline on the front page below the fold reading “Mobster’s body found at O’Hare.”  The article then followed with three paragraphs describing Danny and chronicling his affiliation with the Torino mob over the last three decades.  No mention was made about any of the murders he had participated in.  The article concluded by saying that authorities had no idea as to who had killed him or why.

         “Well, you’re dead now.  Let’s see if Maretti buys it” Baxter said.

         “It better be quick” Danny said.  “I’m at the end of my fuckin’ rope with the take out Chinese, burgers and pizza.  Don’t you fuckin’ people ever eat anything but junk food.  I’d give my left nut for a Caesar salad and veal Marsala.  And this joint stinks.  It smells like a wet ashtray.  And that fuckin’ shower wouldn’t keep a bird’s ass clean.”

         Baxter laughed and scratched his belly.  “You know what the Rabbi said.  It won’t be long now.”

         Shortly after lunch three days later, Danny had run out of things to say.  Once he had been convinced that no matter what he told the agents he would be immune from prosecution, he let out all the stops.  He told them about his first mob hit, a loan shark who skimmed off the payments his customers made, and then lied about it to the family.  They caught him by having Danny “borrow” two thousand dollars to open a pizza shop.  He made his vig regularly and even paid some of the principal, a portion of which the loan shark pocketed.  When the shark’s underboss accused him of holding back, he swore on his mother that he wasn’t.  Danny still laughed about it when he told the agents how the underboss called him in to confront the loan shark.

         He told them about his conviction for a warehouse job he’d done with three other men.  The burglary itself went smoothly.  The problem came up when one of the others tried to sell the stolen goods to an undercover cop.  He did three years at Joliet for that.

         They learned about all the stolen booze that ended up in mob owned bars and restaurants.  He told them about the narcotics that were sold all over Chicago, most of which they already knew.  Nevertheless, they were glad to hear it from Danny as a way to verify the accuracy of his information.  What they didn’t know, and what he was able to give them, including names and places, was how the drugs came into the country.  This information by itself was enough to justify the whole Bonto operation.

         He told them about killing the carjacker, Lawrence Greenleaf.  One of the agents said “That’ll teach him to fuck with a made mob guy.”  Everyone just looked at him.

         After he finished, they’d heard about all sixteen of the murders he had committed.  He had never done any time for murder.  In fact, he had never even been arrested for any of his killings.  By the time he was in his late twenties, he was an accomplished hit man.

         They kept Danny in the motel for two days after they had picked his brain clean of all he could remember about his time in the Torino family.  Although he was getting increasingly restless, he saw the wisdom of keeping out of sight until his relocation, even after he read his own obituary in the Sun Times and Tribune.  He spent his time playing hearts with the agents and speculating about where he wanted to relocate.  It was easier to figure out where he didn’t want to go than where he did.  He didn’t want to live in the country because he was from the city and figured he’d go nuts with boredom in the country.  The South wouldn’t work because of his northern city accent.  He felt he would stand out too much in the suburbs because he was alone.  The west coast was no good because Danny was afraid of earthquakes.  Miami, Arizona and Hawaii were too hot, anything north of Chicago was too cold, and New York was too crazy.  Besides, he had done some work in New York once and he didn’t want to take a chance on being recognized.  He had visited Philadelphia once when he delivered a truckload of stolen washing machines to a wiseguy a Torino capo owed a favor to, a boss in the Philly mob.  The only mobster who saw his face had been gunned down on Tasker Street in South Philadelphia.

         Danny had liked the area, which the locals called Center City, and the park areas out on Kelly Drive and West River Drive.

         “Besides” said one of the hearts players “Philly has great cheese steak sandwiches and soft pretzels.”

              “Yeah” Danny said.  “I think you’re right.  Philly it is.”




To be continued...

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Copyright ©2006 Albert J. Betz All rights reserved.

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"One-Pocket Player's Credo" is from Upscale One-Pocket by Jack H. Koehler, Sportology Publications.


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