On the Legit
Nick Pavoni’s stall was a cafe he called Caesar’s Grill.
Upstairs were a dozen private dining rooms. Behind these rooms was Nick’s office, which had a private stairway leading down to an alley. The affairs of the cafe were managed from the steward’s office downstairs. Nick’s office was for his private and most profitable business. It was also a meeting place and council chamber for Nick’s mob.
In his youth Pavoni had been a window washer. There was a certain organizing ability in the man, and he became a contractor with some dozen window washers in his employ. While poised on the sills of office windows, Pavoni’s eyes had many times rested on shiny, black, fat safes. Ideas came to Pavoni and in time he sold out his business, Pavoni was a rugged, powerful man. He had a very wide head with florid cheeks. His eyes were calm, almost gentle in their depth of brown. They were partly screened by thick black eyebrows. He had a wide, thick-lipped mouth. He liked to grin, chiefly to flash the gold front teeth of which he was very proud.
He turned his brown eyes gently on “Stormy” Lake.
“I sent Mario and Tony out to knock over some filling stations,” he said. “You got to keep these young ones working. Mario, he won’t be much good. But Tony is going to come up. I want you to watch him, Stormy. Next time we, have something big. I think maybe you can take him along. That boy is made for better things than filling stations, remember that. Next time you crack a box. I think you take him, eh? Take him for target. He’s not afraid to use a gun, but he’s no fool. That’s the trouble. They either turn yellow in a pinch, or they go killing a lot of people and get the whole town turned upside down.”
Stormy Lake flipped a cigarette into a cuspidor. His blue eyes were suddenly strained. He started to speak, but Nick Pavoni cut him off.
Red has found us a box. I tell you there’s another good one — Red. That boy hustles, and he’s in the know. It is at the Murdock Mills. They pay off on Saturday, but draw the cash Friday afternoon. It is at the mill office all Friday night. There is a watchman. Johnny and Angelo will take care of him. Tony will go with you and stay outside. Phil will drive. You can make the safe very easy; it is a Reliance … .”
“I can’t, Nick! That’s why I wanted to see you … .”
“You can’t!” Pavoni leaned far back to laugh. “You’re the quiet one, Stormy, the modest one. That’s why I like you. There’s no big talk … .”
“But I can’t, Nick. I mean it. I’m through — quitting!”
“What!” Nick struck his hands to his thighs. He said in almost a whisper: “You do what?”
“I’m going to quit. Getting married, Nick. Going into business on the legit.”
Nick laughed jovially. “Oh, is that it? Well, Stormy, that’s O.K. What kind of business?”
“I’m buying a garage. Good stand.”
“That’s fine. You’re the wise one, Stormy. A garage — that will give you a front, a stall. And besides it will be useful. If she is O.K., getting You know better it will be useful, married is not so bad, than to blab.”
“You don’t get me, Nick. This isn’t a front. I’m quitting. Cutting the whole business out. The garage will be on the up-and-up. The girl won’t stand for me being on the hook. You’ll have to get somebody else.”
Those gentle brown eyes clouded, then glowed with a sullen fire.
“Are you crazy? Do you know what you say? Gees, do you think being in a mob is like jerking soda water or slinging hash, that you can go to the boss and say, ‘Get somebody else, I’m through’? What the hell are you trying to put over, Stormy? Is this some double-cross?”
Pavoni kicked his chair to the wall. He swaggered across the room, smashed a card table from his path, and stormed back with face blood red and eyes ablaze.
He halted suddenly.
“Last year your cut was eighteen grand. This year it is twelve already. And you come to me and say, ‘I quit’. Just when things go so smooth. Everybody satisfied. No bulls stirring us up. No trouble. I am thinking tonight — I am saying to Red when he tells me of this job, ‘Stormy will open it. Stormy is the goods. No foolishness. Always ready. And never bungles. A man that can use a gun to open a getaway without leaving any meat behind. That’s what I say to Red. That’s what I think of you. And now you have turned yellow for a twist. You’re sure crazy, Stormy.
“There is no quitting. When you are in a mob, you are in! You know that. Did you ever hear of anybody pulling out of a mob? If I tell the boys, you know what they will do. But I like you, Stormy. You’re my right-hand man. We worked this bunch up together.”
Pavoni’s voice dropped to a whisper.
“I don’t say a word to anybody. We just forget it. Ditch this dame that is taking the stuff out of you.”
He stopped to pat Stormy on the shoulder.
“Tell me what you need for Friday night.”
Stormy stood up.
“You sure are making this tough, Nick. Yeh, I know I cut plenty dough with you. But who opened the cans and got the dough? I figure we’re about even on that. As for all the tripe about nobody ever quitting a mob, that may go for some of these cheap guns you got out kicking over filling stations, but not for me. I’m through with the racket. You can get somebody else for my end of your capers.
“You don’t need to suppose I’m going to turn stool because I’m getting married. Where would I get off? I’m in as deep as anybody. You’re a hell of a friend, you are. I thought you’d grab my mit and slip me a present or put on a banquet for me.”
“Forget that cheese.”
Nick waved his arm at the door.
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Stormy Is Through
Pavoni did not answer. Stormy stood in the door. Tall, dark, clear-eyed, he was good looking in a rather hard way. Pavoni watched him for a long minute. Then he paced along the floor. He reached out his hand.
“All right, Stormy, we may as well be friends, I guess.”
Stormy’s face relaxed. He shook Pavoni’s hand vigorously.
“You’ll get somebody else for Friday night?” Pavoni grunted.
“But drop in before then, if you change your mind.”
Pavoni sat very still for a long time after Stormy left. At last he pressed a button for a waiter.
“Is anybody here, Slats?”
The waiter nodded. “Johnny and Angelo are in seven with a couple — “
“Chase Angelo in.”
Angelo had been drinking. He slapped Nick on the back and called him “Big Boy.”
Pavoni scowled and waved Angelo to a chair.
“What’s up? You look like you was headed for the hot squat.”
Pavoni swore softly.
“Maybe I am. You too — and all of us.”
Angelo’s eyes lifted.
“It is Stormy,” Nick said quietly.
“Gees! You mean he’s picked up an’ squealed?”
Pavoni shook his head.
“Not yet. But Stormy tells me he is through. He is getting married and quitting the racket.”
Angelo lighted a cigarette. “Well?”
Pavoni pressed a buzzer. “Bring a couple shots for me and Angelo, Slats.”
It was the first time Angelo had seen Nick really drinking whisky.
“Who is this jane that makes so much trouble?” Pavoni asked hopelessly.
“You know Stormy. He tells nobody nothing. He brings no women here.”
“You remember Butch, Angelo?” Pavoni asked.
Angelo nodded. “They fired him for some cigar store stand.”
“You’re right, Angelo. Butch and Scar Maloof and a kid named Strenger pulled it. Butch and Scar got fried. They caught them because some witness drove into a garage one day and seen this Strenger kid working there. The witness called the cops. The garage boss said Strenger had been working for him a year and was a fine kid. The witness must be mistaken. The cops took Strenger anyway. They worked on him. That stick-up was a year and a half before. The kid hadn’t fired the shot that killed the sap. Now he was going straight. So he pilled and rapped Butch and Scar. They got the juice. The kid was held for about six months. Then they gave him probation.
“You see what happens when a guy goes straight? He turns yellow.”
Angelo leaned forward.
“What’re you going to do? Put Stormy on the spot?”
Pavoni grinned and shook his head. “There is another way. We try that first. Maybe then Stormy comes back to us. He is a good man, if this girl had not made him yellow. You know the Clinton School? Well, on Tenth Street by the school is a little store. It is one of these stores near schools that are kept by old women and sell penny candy and pencils.
“This store is run by Mother Molloy. The store is a front. Mother Molloy is a fence. She is an old friend of Stormy. He told me once when we were all in a jam that she keeps his money planted for him. That is so he can get it quick and easy. Stormy has not yet bought this garage.
“Mother Molloy closes her place at nine o’clock. You and Tony will go there. You see that nobody but the old woman is in the store, then at nine o’clock you enter. Tony covers her. You lock the door and pull down the shades. Take her into the back room and make her tell you where her money is hidden.
“Tie her up and stuff something into her mouth so she can’t yell. Take a candle with you. That would be a good way. Hold the candle to her foot. She will tell you. That way we get Stormy’s dough and he can’t buy his garage. Be careful what you do out there. I don’t want any killing. You had better cover your faces. So long as you don’t kill her everything will be fine. She can’t holler copper.”
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Out To Murder Stormy
Twice Angelo and Tony went out and found men in the store at nine o’clock. The third night they caught her alone. Angelo told her to nod her head when she was ready to come across. Tony wielded the smoking candle. Angelo watched her face.
She was a tough old woman and held out for a long time. The first time they stopped she tried to scream for help when they took the gag out. There was no fooling about the second time.
They found fourteen thousand dollars and a handful of diamonds that had been torn from their settings.
Pavoni was very pleased when they got back to Caesar’s Grill. It was the best haul of the year, apart from the disciplinary effect on Stormy. Pavoni took half, the rest was split two ways.
But Friday came and Stormy had not returned to the gang. And they could not try the safe without him.
Pavoni waited two more days; then sent Angelo and Tony out to murder Stormy. There was nothing else to do. Pavoni hated trouble. But you can’t let a fellow live after he’s turned yellow. One question from a cop and he’ll fall apart and spill everything.
Pavoni lay sprawled on a couch in his office while he waited for Angelo and Tony. At his elbow was a bottle of whisky and cigarettes.
Slats, the waiter, knocked at the door. Pavoni asked what he wanted.
“O’Day and Schultze are downstairs. They asked for you and are coming up. What’ll I tell them?”
Hell! Here was a break. Angelo and Tony had gone out to kill Stormy and were not back. And these two bulls had come. Pavoni was sitting upright and wiping sweat from his face.
“What’ll I say?” hissed through the door.
From the lowered voice Pavoni knew the detectives were coming up the stairs. Maybe it wasn’t about Angelo and Tony. There was no use staving these dicks off. He’d have to see them eventually.
“Let ‘em in,” Pavoni growled.
He heard Slats’ footsteps go and return. A knock on the door.
“Come in!” Pavoni boomed.
O’Day and Schultze entered.
“Hello, boys. Have a smoke?”
O’Day shook his head.
“You been here all night, Pavoni?” he asked.
Pavoni glanced at his watch.
“Since seven o’clock,” he answered. “Why?”
“What are you sweating about, Pavoni?” O’Day demanded.
“Nothing. It’s hot up here.”
The two detectives laughed.
No one spoke for a minute that seemed endless to Pavoni. Then Schultze asked: “Where’s Angelo and that fellow he’s running with?”
Pavoni spread his palms.
“How would I know? Angelo, I think he was here tonight. He eats downstairs.”
The two detectives laughed again.
“They’re friends of yours, ain’t they?”
“Sure, they’re my friends. Quit stalling and tell me what you want. What’s the matter with Angelo?”
“Oh, nothing much,” Schultz said. “We picked him and that other kid up tonight.”
“What for?” breathlessly.
“They were trying to drive two ways on a one-way street,” O’Day chuckled. “Traffic cop followed them. Thought they were drunk. They used the whole street from curb to curb. But they weren’t drunk. They were just shot! Both of ‘em. In the right arm. They got dizzy trying to drive some place to get their wounds dressed. The young kid had fainted. Angelo was at the wheel. Of course Angelo didn’t know who did the shooting. They were just waiting for a couple of girls, Angelo said. Some fellow walked up to them and bang! bang! They both got it in the arm.”
“That’s too bad,” Pavoni commented. “It’s getting fierce the amount of lead that’s slung around these days.”
“You don’t know who might have done it, Pavoni?”
“How would I? They’re young fellows. They been horning in on a tough guy’s girl, maybe.”
“Funny about them both getting it in the right arm,” Schultz observed.
They started for the door and Pavoni sighed his relief.
“Anyway, we’ll cool those boys off for six months when they get out of the hospital. They were packing rods.”
“Like hell you will,” Pavoni muttered when the door was closed.
Pavoni stood helpless for a minute. There were a lot of things to be done. He must first learn what hospital they’d been taken to. Then he must get a lawyer to them. And he must send one of the boys over to put the fear of hell into Tony. It was the kid’s first pinch and he might get careless with his tongue. Angelo was all right. Angelo knew the ropes. Angelo was smart. But he hadn’t been smart enough to give Stormy the bump!
Someone knocked on the door to the private stairway. Pavoni glided across the room.
“S-sh! Open up, Nick. It’s me, Angelo!”
Nick wanted to laugh. Angelo was smart. A bolt slid back.
“Get a move on!”
“All right, all right,” Pavoni answered. Angelo’s voice sounded funny. Sounded like he was crying. Again Nick wanted to laugh. Imagine Angelo crying. But that arm hurt, maybe. Pavoni turned another lock and opened the door.
A revolver stuck its ugly mouth into the room. The firm hand that held it appeared. Then Stormy.
Pavoni made one play for his revolver. Stormy’s gun jumped six inches. Pavoni dropped his hand and sighed.
Stormy reached a hand back, closed and locked the door. He crossed the room and slid a bolt on the other door that led to the hall.
Pavoni’s eyes followed that leveled revolver around the room in a nauseating fascination. He suddenly felt old and weak. He was sick. There was a horrible hard ball in his stomach. He was icy cold and shaking.
He tried to speak, but his throat was so dry he choked. At last he managed to curl his tongue into words. They came fast and in a whispering hiss:
“Stormy! For God’s sake! We been pals. You’d give a fellow a break … .”
“Yeh, a fine break those hyenas of yours gave me! Sit down!”
“Stormy. I swear it! I don’t know what you mean. Why did you say you were Angelo? Why do you come like this with a gun to an old friend and say I gave you no break? I have done nothing to you. If you kill me this second, I die swearing I am your friend and have not hurt you.”
“Well, don’t fall apart. If I was going to kill you, would I have locked my getaway door? Where’s your brains?”
Pavoni sighed and relaxed. Of course, he had been a fool not to think of that.
Stormy’s left hand was in his coat pocket.
“Sit down at your desk,” he said.
Stormy flung a package of typewritten sheets before Pavoni.
Pavoni picked up the papers. He saw they were carbon copies. He started to read and gasped explosively.
He looked again and his jumping eyes followed the words:
Pavoni looked up, trembling. His fingers massaged his thick neck. “You had this on you when — when … .”
“Yeh, when Angelo and Tony tried to bump me,” Stormy finished. “Read some more. It’s all there. Thirty-eight jobs. Three murders.”
Pavoni fingered the pages.
“Well, what do you want, Stormy?”
“Not a thing. I just wanted you to see those sheets. The originals are in a sealed package in my lawyer’s safe. They remain there as long as I live. When I pass out, the package goes to a relative of mine. He’s on the level and you don’t know him. If I die a natural death, the package will be burnt without the seal being broken. If I don’t die a natural death, the package is to be taken to the district are attorney. Think that over, Nick.”
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At one o’clock the next day. Pavoni was in the office of Charley Gaige, criminal lawyer extraordinary.
Helen Barlow, Gaige’s secretary, smiled and said Mr. Gaige was out to lunch, and that he wouldn’t be back that day as he was going to court.
Pavoni knew Miss Barlow slightly. He admired her, and respected her inaccessibility to a man of his type.
He grinned amiably now and said he didn’t want to see Mr. Gaige.
She showed him a surprised smile, and waited.
Pavoni leaned over the railroad partition. “I just wanted to see you, Miss Barlow. You can help me — we’re old friends, eh?”
“Of course, Mr. Pavoni,” she laughed.
“Well,” Pavoni said with oily smoothness, “I just wanted to know if Stormy, Mr. Lake — you know Mr. Lake?”
“Of course, we know Mr. Lake. He’s with you, isn’t he? Or one of your friends, anyway.” ‘
“Yes. Stormy’s with me. And I just wanted to know if he left that package — that sealed package — for Mr. Gaige to keep in his vault?”
“Oh, Mr. Pavoni. I know Mr. Lake is a friend of yours, but I don’t know if I should tell you anything like that. Won’t you call Mr. Gaige at his home this evening? I’m sure it’s perfectly all right, or you wouldn’t ask me. But Mr. Gaige would think I was careless or didn’t have the proper respect for the confidence — ‘”
Pavoni laughed heartily.
“That’s all right. You told me now. Because if he hadn’t left it, you would just have said ‘No’.”
Miss Barlow bit her lip.
“It is nothing. Don’t look worried. Now I want to do you a big favor.”
She looked puzzled.
“First I want you to come to dinner with me at the Ritz tonight.”
“Oh, Mr. Pavoni!”
“Well, why not?” Pavoni asked. “I’m a harmless old fellow. It just happens that I could do you a big favor. I could put you in the way of making a lot of money. Don’t ask me how. I’ll tell you this evening. You’ll come? If you don’t want to go into it, no harm done. Shall we say six — thirty, or seven?”
She bit the end of a pencil, smiled doubtfully, but at length said, “Seven.”
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Money Would Tempt Her
Pavoni left the office satisfied. He had guessed shrewdly. Gaige was the attorney of all the big shots in town. He was Pavoni’s lawyer. And naturally be was Stormy’s lawyer. The thing that had puzzled Pavoni for a time was how to reach that vault. His gang could break into Gaige’s office. But as well to contemplate the Federal Reserve vaults as that one of the lawyer’s. Gaige had built his practice through a reputation for squareness. He had never thrown down a client. Had never broken faith with one. But Miss Barlow was the weak spot in Stormy’s armor. She was a fine young woman, Pavoni conceded. But she was poor; and, he was confident, money — a lot of it, of course — would tempt her.
She was waiting for him at the hotel. He strode over to her with an easy grin on his florid face.
“Oh, Mr. Pavoni, I’ve been so worried. I don’t think I should have come. I think Mr. Gaige might not consider it right for me to have dinner with a client — at least without his permission.”
Pavoni closed his big hand around her slender, soft arm. “Don’t you be foolish, Miss Barlow. Gaige wouldn’t care. Besides, it’s after office hours. You’re not working for him now.”
Reluctantly, she let him lead her to the dining room. Pavoni knew how to buy favors. They had a sheltered table for two near, a window. But the dinner was not a great success. Pavoni felt out of it here. He was too big, too rough, for this fine place. Miss Barlow was nervous. She picked at her food and gave all her time to anxious glances about the dining room.
When nothing remained on the table but small blacks, Pavoni got to business.
“You’ll be wanting to know what I got up my sleeve, Miss Barlow?”
He laid his big elbows on the table and leaned toward her. “I don’t stall, Miss Barlow. I want that package Stormy left with Gaige. It’s worth ten grand — ten thousand — to me.”
He sat back and waited. He hated to pay that much, but Miss Barlow wasn’t cheap. Nothing but real money would make her a crook.
She gasped and looked at him intently.
“That’s impossible. Terrible. I must go. Why, you’re insulting.”
Pavoni’s arm shot out. He almost held her in the chair.
“Listen. You won’t be hurting Gaige. You won’t be hurting Stormy. There is nothing in that package that’s worth a dime to Gaige or Stormy. But it’s worth ten thousand to me.”
“Fifteen thousand,” he offered.
“Please take me out of here. I don’t want to create a scene.”
“For God’s sake, girl, you’re mad! Twenty thousand. That’s what I’ll give you! Think of it. Twenty thousand in one lump. Do you know any other way you will ever get your hands on that much at one time? What can you do with that much coin? You’re young, and smart. Think what it means!”
Pavoni was holding her arm all the time. He felt a little quiver run through her body, then a slight relaxation. He let her play with the figures a while.
“Oh, but I couldn’t, betraying Mr. Gaige.”
“He’ll never know, Pavoni said quickly. “You get me that package. Then I’ll fix it up and you can put it back in there. Nobody will ever know it’s been opened. And you’ll have your stake.”
“No. I couldn’t do it. I’m ashamed to stay and talk to you about it. It’s wrong.”
Her refusal was not quite so vigorous now. But Pavoni was nearly crazy with worry. He couldn’t sleep while that cursed history of the gang lay in Gaige’s vault. Suppose some other gang took a shot at Stormy? Suppose the damned snitch got himself killed in an automobile accident? Pavoni and the gang would burn sure. He broke into a sweat. If it cost every dime he had in the world, he must get that package. He’d put the gang on the hustle to make up what he paid.
“Please call for the check and take me out of here,” the girl begged again. “Please!”
Pavoni smiled at her. He wanted to clamp his big fists around that slim white throat. For a minute the rage that boiled in his brain held him breathless. He made a last desperate plunge.
“Thirty thousand dollars!” he whispered.
She moaned, and Pavoni knew he had her. People near by glanced up.
“Smile!” he hissed.
Her eyes gleamed with tears; but her lips turned up in a miserable smile.
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Who Did She Marry?
Pavoni wasted no more time. He pressed ten one thousand dollar bills into her palms right then. Safer to let her play with some of the money than with the idea. He made swift arrangements for the transfer of the package and the balance of the money. He took her to a taxi and drove home with her. He kept her jollied up with visions of what she could do with thirty thousand dollars.
Her decision made, she brightened a little. Pavoni left her confident that she would live up to her bargain.
And for himself, he intended to live up to his. He hated to throw out that much money, but he had to shoot square with this girl. If he tried any double-cross at the final exchange, there was no telling what she would do. She might go and confess everything to Gaige. Pavoni would have the telltale papers, anyway. But there was no telling when you needed Gaige. Why, it might be worth a hundred grand to have Gaige with you.
Pavoni chuckled as he dropped into bed. If Stormy managed to keep alive for one more day, the gang was safe. And twenty-four hours after Pavoni got that package, Stormy would be a dead man.
Pavoni waited in the lobby of the McClellan. In two minutes she should come. He broke into a sweat as he thought of the possibility of an accident to her. Now that the package was nearly his, he was mad with anxiety. A wave of relief that left him weak passed through his body. She was coming.
He nearly dragged her to a secluded corner. She reached within her coat. Pavoni watched her with wolfish eyes. Her fingers held a long white linen envelope.
Pavoni smiled, and brought a wallet from his pocket. She passed him the envelope and took the money.
“Count the money,” he urged.
She ran her fingertips across the edges of twenty one-thousand-dollar notes. Pavoni was examining the envelope and its seal. He smiled.
“You better get that to a safe deposit box, if you have one,” he advised.
She nodded. “Good-night, Mr. Pavoni.”
He walked downstairs to the washrooms.
His fingers tore futilely at the linen envelope. Luckily, he had a knife. In the envelope were many sheets of typewriter paper. On the top sheet, Pavoni read the words:
“A Gangster Never Squeals”
He turned over the other sheets.
They were all blank.
“I be damned! I be damned!” Pavoni stood for five minutes repeating the words. He couldn’t think straight. Where did he stand? He felt the dazed freedom of an unfettered slave. Relief. Joy. Anger. He felt them all; but which was right?
He caught himself saying, “Good old Stormy.”
Then next second remembered he had planned to murder Stormy. He hurried down to Caesar’s Grill. Had a bottle of whiskey sent up to the office and lay on the couch drinking. At midnight he dozed off in a drunken sleep. It was the third time in twenty years that Pavoni had been drunk.
It was nine in the morning when Pavoni came out of his sleep. He had a mean head and was ugly. He didn’t give a hoot if the girl didn’t know what was in the package. He’d get that dough back if he had to throw the girl and Gaige both through their windows.
He had to wait in the corridor for twenty-five minutes before Gaige arrived.
The lawyer unlocked the door. “Come on in.”
Gaige held a gate open for Pavoni to precede him into the lawyer’s private office.
Pavoni shook his head. “I want to see Miss Barlow.”
Gaige was surprised. “She won’t be down. She has left me.”
The lawyer looked puzzled as Pavoni stood there rooted to the floor. “Miss Barlow has gone away,” he added with a smile.
“Where?” Pavoni snarled.
Gaige laughed. “Well, she didn’t say exactly. But she told me she was leaving the city for good — with her husband. She got married yesterday morning.”
“Who?” Pavoni roared. “Who did she marry?” -
“Didn’t you know?” said Gaige. “Stormy Lake!”
~ The End ~
By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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