It was raining outside of Puffy’s. No surprise. It had been raining allover the city for the last four days. When it slowed to a
sprinkle, people pretended the sun was out, closed their umbrellas and acted like they were dry. Except for Ron Guerriero. He was hardly wet at all, sitting in a car in a parking lot on the east side of Worth Street, watching the corner of Hudson and Harrison.
Ron had been there for four days, passing the time with Harold. Happy actually. Harold was the given name, picked by his parents after some British prime minister in order to give him the chance to get ahead. So here was Harold sitting in a car with rain pouring outside watching a street corner. Hardly a parent’s idea of a success story.
This was the corner where Tony Cavaliere was waiting for the latest hustler in New York City who was trying to make it quick and easy. The stiff had been moving fake money, not bad stuff but clearly not good enough to fool any undercover cop, seasoned hooker, grisly bartender or counterfeit agent, of which Tony was.
For about seven weeks the word ringing in the ears of Ron and his squad was that there were some new 50s coming in. Good quality, of course. Source unknown, of course. They had grabbed several in Boston, some more in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Miami but no one was talking.
The bills looked sharp and clean and Ulysses Grant never looked more handsome. The rag paper was the real stuff, complete with the red and blue security fibers, and the Great Seal of the U.S. was in perfect detail.
But the serial numbers had only two different sets and the ink of the fronts of the bill was different from the real juice. From what Happy’s trained eye had told Ron when some samples first arrived, the bills had been washed. It was a modern-day version of spinning straw.
into gold. in this case. it was turning one dollar bills into fifties. Martha Washington would be very miffed to find that her gentleman husband was reappearing as a rouge.
Up to now. all the usually reliable mouths could only offer gibberish. The few slobs caught with it in New York had nothing of substance to offer so Ron’s squad was back to the basics. Any lead was a good one at this point.
Based on Tony’s description of the stiff and his counterfeit, these bills seemed like small potatoes, a nickel-and-dime operation. But it was still an operation that had to be stopped.
Across the street from Ron and Happy in a much damper car were Frankie Juice and Bobby Hannibal. They were busy discussing Hannibal’s apparent virginity, a favorite office topic elevated to Greek tragedy status by Frankie Juice. Frankie Juice had been with the Secret Service’s counterfeiting squad for 16 years, well before Ron was commander. In the old days, it was booze. Cigarettes and women, though not always in that order. Frankie Juice thought of the old days as the night before and saw the bespectacled Hannibal as someone who could benefit from his schooling.
Sitting in their own car by the New York Mercantile Exchange on Harrison, with the radio on a Spanish station and a carton of fried chicken in the middle of the front seat, were Caesar Flores and Charlie Pallini. Caesar was snapping his fingers off-beat to the music; Charlie was meticulously taking a bite of chicken, wiping his hands and mouth, then taking another bite.
It was a full detail. singing in the rain, waiting.
Ron hated the rain, but at the same time appreciated it. Rain always seemed to mean a slowdown, a time to wash away some of the filth that built up from the last case and the case before and the case before that. Every cop, every law enforcement man knew that most of the work wasn’t solving the case or making the bust. It was all the shit that followed, all the crap that was in between, all the good work that got wasted. It seemed like there was more of that waste on each case.
“Hey, I’m going to shoot over there and get some coffees, right,” Happy said as he slid out the car.
“Give Tony a kiss for me and tell him not to make this a fucking novel,” Ron said. His mind was running over the possibilities one more time.
Maybe the stiff from the Ear Inn was even more bullshit than they ha made him for. He might have thought Tony was a cop. Not that Tony would screw up, but accidentally. It happens with these guys in from the suburbs trying to be tough and cool who are actually very stupid. They like to think they are playing in the big leagues so they try to outfox some broad or a hooker. Then they think there are undercover cops all around and all of a sudden the suburban husband looking for a good time gets real nervous, worried what will happen to him when the wife in Connecticut finds out what her vacation money is really being spent on.
Happy came back with two coffees that already felt cold. He had been chatting it up with the bartender in Puffy’s and Ron had half hoped he would have thrown a sambuca in the styrofoam cup. The old school, like Frankie Juice would say. And with this shaping up to be an easy hit, if it ever took place, a little sambuca would not matter.
Ron opened the coffee and sipped it. He was wrong. The coffee wasn’t cold, just tepid. The was his word for the day and he used it correctly.
“This coffee is tepid,” he said. But Happy wasn’t listening.
“I knew when they scraped the black paint off the windows, I knew the place was going to change. First went the music. And you can see it in there now, Ron. When I walked into Puffy’s now, some people I never saw before looked at me like I didn’t belong. Next thing you know they’ll have plants hanging in the windows.
Ron had heard this song from Happy before and instead thought hard about how good the sambuca would taste. He was not very happy with the coffee and not sure about the progress of the case.
From what Tony reported, the hustler seemed pretty stupid, Ron thought. Last week in the Ear Inn, the stiff flashed the fake money to three of the four types who usually spot it.
First, he hit on a woman who happened to be an off-duty hooker having her second Dewars and water, hoping to avoid what would turn out to be the first of the rain. The hooker tells him to beat it. She is off for the night and wants no part of this guy, even for the five minutes it would take. Plus, she spotted the fake money right away in the pile he built on the bar to impress her. So she told him no, but not in those words.
Tony saw it was fake as well. It was nice and criSp but flat. Real bills would have looked three dimensional and, to Tony and the others in the squad, are like works of art. This looked like subway graffiti. Tony would have preferred talking to the hooker but he knew where they would end. He was more curious about where the stiff got the fake bills.
“Yeah, that’s why we’ve been sitting here for four days,” Ron said as the coffee moved from tepid to cold. Happy looked at him and grinned. April showers bring May flowers,” he said.
“It’s September,” Ron grunted.
Tony had followed the guy out and told him not to worry. He had
worked that woman once for two hours and five drinks and she still didn’t budge, he told the stiff. Got meaner with every drink and then the bartender finally told him she was a hooker, he said. So the bartender gave me some advice that I’ll share with you
pal,” Tony told the stiff last week. He said to drink cheap here, and find the women elsewhere. And he gave me the names of a few places, which is where I’m going now. For at least one more drink.1t
The stiff understood that. He figured he had a buddy, someone to drink with. Now Tony can stay out late. He figured he is working. You think this handjob just stumbled on to the gaff? I mean, from Tony’s description, he seemed like the usual suburban weasel. I think someone may be testing the stuff in the suburbs and the guy doesn’t even know what he has,” Happy said. “Tony thinks he knows. That’s always been good enough.”
So Tony walked the stiff over to Varrick Street, mostly on Tony’s faint promise of some fun women at Van Dam’s. The guy is happy someone is paying attention to him and listening to him, Tony laughs later. Tony was bringing him up and down, making him feel in control so he would be out of control. Once at the bar, Tony bought the first two rounds and let the guy buy the third. The stiff had a wallet stuffed with bills and Tony guessed some of them were fake. But he wanted to be sure.
So did Ron and that was why he didn’t give up. The stiff had agreed to meet Tony in Puffy’s on one of the next five days around 4 p.m., on the first night he could get in from Connecticut. So that meant no dinner those nights for Ron at his home in Bloomfield.
The stiff had liked Van Dam’s. It was dark and sleek, the place out-of-towners think of as being cool, trendy and exotic New York, a place where a horny guy was positive he could find “action,” That was that neat, all-encompassing suburban word, action. The stiff wanted to get laid and he wanted it for nothing, which was what the cost would be if he used the gaff. A real dandy this guy, a Connecticut Dandy. This stiff had spent years of nights trying to get it for free and failed. Now he has is own style of Monopoly money and can’t wait to buy Boardwalk.
One of Tony’s friends was in Van Dam’s when they arrived and he sent a glass of Pastis down to her and chased it with a wink. She smiled back with as much enthusiasm as a vegetarian looking at a steak on the grill. But the Dandy saw what he wanted to see. a drink sent to a mystery woman, just like in the movies.
“Is that one,lf he blurted out — and Tony laughed later. “Yeah. she’s one all right,” Tony said then. “But not the one for you.”
That was the bait and the Dandy was hooked. By the time the first two drinks had been finished, Tony had carefully explained that to do it “right” — another of those suburban euphemisms that meant safe with no scratch marks for the wife to find — it would cost some money on some other night. The Dandy said he could get all the money he would need, with only a small problem. The money was at home and he didn’t know just what day he could come again.
Tony was happy to help. He ordered another round and said he hung out a bar called Puffy’s. Almost every weekday around 4. Drop by next week and we’ll try again. The guy eagerly paid for the last round and Tony saw the gaff again. They both left Van Dams thinking about scoring.
That was that. The plan was easy. The guy’s money at home was no doubt more of the same. Now all they had to was get him dirty. to admit he knew it was counterfeit and he was grabbed. Case closed, door opened to find where the bills were coming from.
Four days later they were still watching Puffy’s. The car was stinking from the salami and cheese sandwiches that never got more than half eaten before finding a resting place on the floor. The insides of the windows were always wet from water streaming in. The highlight of the four days was when a wino tried to crawl in to escape the rain.
Tony wasn’t complaining. He was sitting in Puffy’s warm and alert.
like a hound waiting with his nose in the air to catch the first scent of the fox. His head was bobbing slightly and Ron knew he was singing to some juke box tune. “Hey. he likes the songs in there,” Ron said, nudging Happy.
Happy said “hmrmph” and nodded out the window. The Connecticut Dandy was walking up Harrison, his umbrella opened wide and his raincoat shut tight. He walked passed the car with Caesar Flores and Charlie Pallinit saw Puffy’s and quickened his pace toward the bar.
“Look at that face. He either has measles or he just had a sloppy meal at How’s Bayou, tt Happy said.
The Dandy saw Tony through the bar window and smiled broadly. “Christ he looks like he is in love with him,” Happy said. Tony gave a short wave with two fingers of his left hand and returned the smile. His was not as genuine.
“Just like clockwork.” Happy clucked. Tony was at the only table by the front window, next to the door. The drill they had run through hundreds of times kicked in. Flores shut off his radio and Frankie Juice stopped teasing Hannibal. Charlie’s chicken went into the back seat. Happy stretched his neck and rolled his tongue over his top lip. Ron’s eyes narrowed to focus in on the table by the window. to watch the meeting go down.
The Dandy was shaking the water of his coat. Tony just sat and smiled. Ron and Happy watched as Tony began spinning his tale, with the Dandy buying every word as easily as he accepted the bar tab four days ear1ier.
“I can just hear him now,tt Happy said. “Telling him about the different girls they might find. Red hair and long legs. Black with
big tits. Brunette with a whip and leather. But a special one for you, a friend of mine. A guy’s dream come true, and all for a few hundred. 1t IIYeah, and don’t worry. I’ll protect you, he’s saying. Don’t forget that, Ron added. Judging by the smile on the Dandy’s face, Tony said something that pleased him. He still had not sat down.
Tony was nursing the situation. He sipped on his Rolling Rock and listened to the Dandy babble about options. The guy had abandoned any pretense of guise and his voice was accelerating like the whistle on a tea kettle. He was ready to go.
Tony stretched his arms and clasped his hands behind his head. That told Frankie Juice and Bobby Hannibal it was time for them to leave. They drove ahead to Walker’s to wait for the next scene.
“She’s one of the best, you know,” Tony said as he and the Dandy walked up Hudson Street. The Dandy had his umbrella open but Tony was walking in the rain, still smiling winningly. But she likes to spend money. There is nothing you are nervous about, something that may set her off like that last one?”
“No, no, no, why do you ask,” the Dandy said.
“Hey, I want this to be fun. You’ve been okay with me, I’m just trying to be okay back. If you say it’s fine, it is. But let me know if something is wrong, okay? You said you have money to spend and wanted the best, so I set this up. She’s a friend of mine and you’re a friend of mine. I don’t want either of you unhappy. But you’ve already kept her waiting for three days and each day I had to go over and talk to her, calm her down, saying her wait would be worth it. So the price has already gone up because of the wait,” Tony said quickly, smiling his fake smile broadly again.
III couldn’t help it, you know that. I … I came as soon as I could,” “That doesn’t matter to her. But as long as you pay, she won’t
care,’ Tony said.
“Don’t worry,!!” he whispered. “I have no problems with the money. And I mean no problems.”
“Yeh, so you’ve said. How come,” Tony said casually. ”
Just no problems. I don’t care how much it costs, there is more where it came from,.” The Dandy was back at full cockiness.
“Sounds like you have a money tree at home.”
“Something like that.”
Gorgeous was waiting at Walker’s for the two of them. Tony had built her up as a great time. “Very buxom, very shapely and very attractive. If that’s what you are looking for and can be generous, you will not be disappointed,” Tony said as they neared the bar.
“Is she discreet,” the Dandy asked. “Only you can give her away,” Tony said. “She likes nice men.”
Tony watched as the Dandy’s juices started to flow and his pace picked up. “Now don’t go flashing money right away, like you did the last time. Just make sure you have enough. You look fucking starved and I would not like it if you got in there, got going and started ordering ala carte with her and then did not have the scratch to pay the bill,” Tony said.
The Dandy showed no desire to think clearly. “I told you, no problem, no problem,” he spat, his voice seeking a post-puberty low. Lots of cash for lots of gash.”
Gorgeous came over to Tony and the Dandy, giving Tony a kiss on the cheek. She just smiled at the Dandy as Ron and Happy drifted in and sat at the far end of the bar. Happy ordered a ginger ale. His looks let him get away with that.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Gorgeous said to the Dandy. He didn’t know that all that talk had been in the squad room during the briefing. “You’ve been bad, keeping me waiting like this,'” she said as she rubbed the Dandy’s shoulder.
The Dandy’s eyes lit up. “Hey, I’ll make it up to you baby, don’t worry about a thing, heh heh heh,” the Dandy said, nudging Tony with his elbow. Tony smiled some more.
The Dandy ordered a scotch and water and waved his arms in from of Tony and Gorgeous to get drinks for them. The glass had barely touched the bar when the Dandy grabbed it with shaking hands. He drank half of it and snacked his lips. Gorgeous sighed and crinkled her nose at Tony as she picked up her drink.
“About ready to go, I see,” Gorgeous whispered into the Dandy’s ear. He steadied himself by grabbing the glass again. “You sit tight, I’ll be right back.” She eased herself off the barstool and made her way to the restroom in the back. Hannibal and Frankie Juice, sitting by a table near the door, finished their drinks and went outside. Happy went to men’s room to make sure Gorgeous didn’t return to the bar too soon.
The Dandy gulped hard, then looked sadly at his empty glass. Tony lit a cigarette and let the smoke out slowly.
“Alright, ace, here you go. When she comes back you two are going to leave. She is going to take you to a room, you are going to pay here, and then, the next time you see me, you’re going to thank me for helping you have the best time you ever had,”
“You’re not going to be around? “No way. This isn’t a tag team.”
“I mean, you’re not going to come to the place and wait, in case… “In case of what, ace?”
BAh, you know. In case something goes wrong, or there is a, ah, like some kind of miscommunication or there is some big guy there waiting. ”
Tony took a sip of his Rolling Rock and slowly set the bottle back on the bar. He exhaled. rubbed his nose with his left thumb, then ran his hand over his face. “What kind of miscommunication. I’m sure she knows all the ways you have in mind,” he said, keeping his hands over his eyes.
“I’m just a little nervous things might not go as planned. She might not like me for some reason and pull a knife or something,” the Dandy said. Little beads of sweat were popping on the Dandy’s temples.
Ron easily heard the conversation. He shifted in his barstool and felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to tingle. His stomach made a soft gurgle. It was smash and grab time.
“This woman is a pro,” Tony said, his eyes narrowing on the Dandy. “The only reason she might not like you is if you try to rip her off. As I remember. the last time you were talking to a hooker she was not liking you too much and now I’m wondering why.”
Tony could see the sweat move to the Dandy’s cheeks. He guessed what was going through his mind: a strange bar full of strange people, with the only guy he knows getting angry at him. It was time to fish or cut bait and the Dandy knew it. He was only looking for a good time and he realized that he could be without a lifeline, dealing with a pro who might see his money was fake.
He said: “How smart do you think this woman is’?”
“What is wrong with you,” Tony hissed. “She is a pro, can’t you get it? If there is something you need to tell me, do it now, cause her bladder is going to be empty any minute.”
The Dandy looked stricken. If someone would have said boo, he probably would have started to cry. He looked at empty glass and found no support there. He looked at Tony’s cold eyes, then turned away and looked down at the bar.
Then he went for the door. But the Dandy’s rubber legs were not Olympic caliber and they carried him into a table. The ashtray fell and so did the Dandy. By the time he got up Tony was at his side.
“What the fuck are you doing,” he said, grabbing the Dandy by his jacket.
“Let’s get out of here — quick.”
Happy had already moved out the door. Hannibal and Frankie Juice were about 50 feet to the left of the bar and Happy had turned right, away from them. In the car across the street from the bar, Caesar had shut the radio off and Charlie’s Pallini was giggling.
The Dandy got outside and quicken his pace but could not walk escape from Tony’s reach. He shoved the Dandy against the wall.
“This is not funny,” Tony said. “Now I don’t have much time.”
“She might guess the money is not real good,” the Dandy whimpered. He was looking down at the sidewalk and did not see Ron come up along side.
“What do you mean? You mean the money is hot? You ripped it off from your company or something? Is that why you have so much.” Tony spat. “Hey, she won’t give a shit about that.”
“No. I mean, it’s no good. It not real. It’s fake. That was why the one in Ear Inn got angry. I think she knew. And if she knew, this one will probably too. That’s all I was going to give her. Fake money, for the tip and everything. But you said she was a pro. You said it. She would have caught me. And you were going to leave me.”
That was what Ron had to hear. The Dandy knew the money was counterfeit. He knew it and was trying to use it anyway. That was more than enough to grab him.
Tony was ready to smile but had to twist the knife a little more. “You’re right. There’s no doubt she would have known right away,” Tony said.
The Dandy gave him a puzzled look. “How do you know,” he asked.
“Because she is a counterfeit agent. Just like I am,” Tony said, showing the Dandy his i.d.
He hadn’t said boo, but this time the Dandy did cry. Just when it had finally stopped raining.