“What the hell are you saying?”
“Boss, it was him!”
The man behind the desk blew perfect rings of cigar smoke. “You been drinking? You high again? Don’t think I won’t make you piss in a cup.”
“It’s the truth!”
The man glared at his younger associate. “Everyone knows he’s fucking dead, Joey! A friend of ours did federal time with a guy who knew a guy who said he was there when they popped him.”
“Uncle Frank, they did a shitty job, because he didn’t stay dead. That was Jimmy Hoffa.”
“Impossible. He’d be ancient.”
“Looked like it. He was in one of them motorized wheelchairs propped up with a pillow, kinda like maybe he had a stroke or something. I swear it’s him. I seen him clear with my binoculars. Look at that photo on the wall behind you. Add forty years, and it’s him.”
“You saw him at the drop point?”
“He made the fuckin’ drop himself! Morelli’s boys was waiting where my guy said. This high-top van drove up with a ramp thing on the back. Hoffa rolled out and went over to Morelli’s crew with a briefcase on his lap. His face was lit up pretty good when he drove out of the van and on the whole ride back to it.”
“Huh,” Frank grunted.
“Yeah. That’s why I’m sure it was him. None of Morelli’s guys acted surprised, like maybe they expected an old guy. Maybe they even knew who he was.”
“That makes no damn sense, Joey. What was in the case?”
“Looked like documents, reports with covers or some such shit. Couldn’t see real clear ‘cuz Hoffa was facing away from me. All I know is Morellli’s one guy opened the case and flipped through it. He showed Hoffa another case that looked like it was stuffed with bundled cash, a shitload of it. That’s what he took with him to the van. He rode in the back. Limo tint on the windows. Couldn’t see who was with him.”
“If that was Hoffa, is he working for the Parnelli brothers?” Frank asked.
“Nah. I hear they’re pissed off because their deal got blown. Word on the street is they were supposed to be doin’ the sale for someone else.”
“So whoever Hoffa works for cut them out and contacted Morelli,” Frank mused.
“Assuming Hoffa ain’t self-employed, yeah. My source called me and told me the drop would be early. You know where I had to hide, boss. I can find Morelli’s boys, so I tried going after Hoffa. By the time I got to my car, the van was gone. It was him, dammit. Sorry I lost him, Frank.”
“It was a surveillance mission, so I forgive you this time.”
“Boss, I swear on my grandmother’s eyes it was Hoffa. I bet if we had one of them face-aging programs like the cops use, we could turn that pic into the guy in the wheelchair.”
Frank took the framed image down to study it. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand how he can be alive, and I sure as hell don’t understand why he’s here, screwing the Parnellis on a deal. I hate not knowing what the fuck is going on. Ignorance is weakness.”
“Whadya want me to do, boss?”
“I know someone who might be able to learn things about the Parnellis, so don’t worry about them now. Work the streets. Take a couple guys.”
“Uncle Frank, what am I supposed to look for?”
“That’s what’s fucked up. We know Morelli sold some real estate for cash last week, but that’s it. Hell, we don’t know what he bought. We don’t know what the Parnellis were selling. We don’t know why Hoffa’s involved. We don’t know shit, and that worries me.” He opened the safe behind him. “Dig deep with your sources. Spread some cash around or break some ribs if you have to. But be careful. I don’t want that fat bastard Morelli knowing I’m curious. For now we’re better off if people think we know even less than we do. I don’t want trouble.”
“I expect you to call with news by morning.”
“Got it, boss.”
“And pull your fuckin’ pants up. Buy some clothes that fit. Try and look respectable for a change. You’re a made man now, not some street punk.”
Frank studied the old black-and-white photograph of his grandfather shaking Jimmy Hoffa’s hand. He remembered being there that day forty or so years ago, a boy almost too old to be playing in the sandbox with his little cousins. That was about a year before Hoffa vanished. Even if he didn’t get whacked, even if he pulled off the best disappearing act ever, he should have died of old age by now, shouldn’t he?
The problem was the kid was so sure. Joey wasn’t the best earner in the family, but he was smart and had an uncanny eye for faces. He loved playing boy detective, and he was never wrong when he was actually serious about something. Frank pushed a button on his desk phone.
“Do you have a bag packed?”
“Essentials for three days.”
“Good girl, Carlotta. Pull up all you can on Guido Morelli – extended family, old friends, school, whatever you can find that you didn’t know before. Tell Angelo to clean and gas up my personal car and bring it to the front in two hours. You and me are going on a road trip. You can read to me while I drive. We’ll stop along the way for stuff for me and for whatever you want.”
“Where are we going?”
“Detroit. Get us a room for tonight. Tell them we’ll stay a few days.”
“What are we going to do when we get there?”
“Check on an old acquaintance’s health.”
When they were on the road, Frank asked, “What did you find out?”
“It looks like Guido Morelli went to school for a while with Russell Buffalino.”
“Name’s familiar. Who’s he?”
“He was on the FBI list of suspects in the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance. Buffalino was a Teamsters boss from Pennsylvania who might have been at the house where Hoffa was supposed to have been killed.”
“Frank, no one ever said Buffalino was there for sure, and he died in 1994.”
“Okay, so he’s no good to us. You know, even though it’s the popular theory, no one said Hoffa was killed there for sure either. Joey saw him last night.”
Her mouth dropped open in surprise. “Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters boss who’s buried under Giants Stadium?”
“That’s one rumor. Another is they ran him through a wood chipper. Some say they put him in a junk car they crushed and sent to Japan with a load of scrap metal. But what if he’s alive?”
“Frank, it says here Jimmy Hoffa was declared legally dead twenty-five years ago.”
“The courts have been wrong before, babe.”
“Why are we driving to Detroit?”
“Jimmy Hoffa’s last known whereabouts.”
She played with her tablet for a minute. “This happened in 1975. There was a man named Chuckie O’Brien. His car was the last place anyone saw Hoffa, sitting in the back seat. Dogs found his scent there and in the trunk, and they matched a hair from the car to Hoffa’s hairbrush in 2001.”
“All of which proves shit. He could have been in the trunk dead that day, or he could have thrown his jacket in there a month earlier. Hoffa took O’Brien in when the kid’s old man got killed. They were family. I’m sure they rode in each other’s cars more than once.”
“You don’t think Hoffa’s dead, do you Frank?”
“Joey sure as hell doesn’t.”
“I know Joey’s your nephew, but are you sure you trust him?”
“He’s a made man, Carlotta.”
“You talk about how he frustrates you.”
“He’s my big sister’s only kid. When they sent his dad upstate I said I’d watch over the boy, and I do. The kid’s a fuck-off, but he ain’t stupid. If he said he saw Hoffa, he saw probably Hoffa.”
She played with her screen. “He’ll be a hundred and two on Valentine’s Day.”
“That won’t get him in the Guinness book.”
“No, but it’s remarkable.”
“More like impossible, or at least that’s what I thought when Joey first said it. That’s why I want to try to find out if he’s really dead.”
“Why does it matter?” she asked.
“Jimmy Hoffa pissed a lot of people off. He had to go. Friends of ours were involved. If he ain’t dead, it changes a lot of shit. Some important people lied or were lied to. Depending on what was in the attache case he sold Morelli, some old secrets are could get exposed. People could go to jail. People could get whacked. Morelli’s boys handed over a lot of money. They didn’t react to some old geezer making the drop. If those papers have anything to do with the union or the feds or the family back then, they could do a lot of damage in the wrong hands.”
“What if it wasn’t Hoffa? What if it was a disguise like in the movies?”
He considered this idea in silence for a mile. “Morelli either thinks it’s Hoffa or is in on the whole disguise thing. But why? Who would the guy disguised as Hoffa be hiding from? His guys in the van? And why the fuck would he try to look like a man who’s supposed to be dead?”
“How much info did Joey give you on the van, Frank?”
“Not enough. Call him and see if he learned anything new. Friends of ours own a nice mall about an hour ahead. Help me pick out a suit. You can get yourself some pretty things while I buy shit for me. Call the hotel and tell them we’re checking in late.”
It was almost midnight when they got to the Crowne Plaza desk. “I have a reservation for late arrival. Salvatore.”
The older man behind the counter checked his screen. “Yes, sir. I have a suite for you, but there’s only a single king-sized bed.”
“Your daughter, sir?”
Frank stiffened. “I ain’t that damn old, you senile piece of shit! Get on the damn phone. Tell your boss to get his ass here now. Even if she was my daughter, it’s none of your fuckin’ business, and it sure as hell ain’t the motherfuckin’ hotel’s business.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“So am I, Pops. You look like you need this job, but you just lost it.”
“Honey, stop!” Carlotta said. “There’s no need to get all worked up. I consider it a compliment that this mature gentleman thinks I look so young.”
“A compliment?” Frank snarled.
“Yes, and if you weren’t so tired from driving all those hours you’d see it that way too.”
Frank’s face softened. He pulled his money clip from his pocket and laid a pair of hundred dollar bills on the counter in front of the old man. “No hard feelings, right, Pops? Now, could you call someone to get our bags?”
Settled in their suite, the couple prepared for bed. Carlotta came out of the bathroom in a filmy black negligee to find Frank in pajamas, propped up on pillows in bed, talking on his phone. She made sure he saw her before she snuggled under the covers next to him.
He fondled her breast but continued his call. “So the van was stolen and torched, huh? Big shock. That’s a dead end.”
Carlotta kissed Frank’s neck and stroked him through his pajamas.
“Uh, look, Joey, something just came up. Call me before lunch.” He put his phone on the nightstand and grabbed her. “I haven’t fucked you in a week.”
“My pussy needs attention, Daddy.”
“You want to play that game tonight, baby girl?”
“I can put my hair in pigtails, but I didn’t bring my schoolgirl clothes.”
“Clothes come off anyway.” He untied the ribbons holding her top together and removed it to play with her firm, full breasts. “When I want to pull your hair, I don’t need pigtails.”
“I like it when Daddy pulls my hair,” she said. She eased his pajama pants down and inhaled his cock, gagging on it a little until she forced her throat to relax for him. When she came up for air, she broke the slimy strings of spit connecting them with her hand and used the lubrication to stroke him. “You drove all day, Daddy. You bought me pretty things. Let me help you relax first. Then we’ll see what happens.”
He lay back and let himself enjoy her. Carlotta wasn’t young enough to be his daughter, but she looked much younger than her thirty years. She was the perfect legitimate business associate and off-hours mistress, mature enough to dress up for court appearances and business dinners, young-looking enough every man ogled her at the beach, and as Sicilian as any girl he ever met. Her skill levels in the office and bedroom were equally high.
Carlotta’s one hand was deep in her translucent panties when she swallowed his sperm. When she finished licking him hard again, he grabbed her hand and sucked her flavor from her fingers.
“Please make me cum, Daddy.”
The next morning a knock on the suite door woke them.
“Shit,” Frank hissed, moving silently across the room with his weapon in his hand.
Carlotta tossed him his pajama pants and covered the door with her own little gun from her purse. She held his pajama top against herself in a vain attempt to hide her nudity.
The person knocked again. “Room service. Complimentary breakfast. You checked the box for eight o’clock, sir.”
Frank put his gun under a shirt in his suitcase when he saw Carlotta conceal hers under the dressing gown she hurriedly put on, the business end of her little pink-gripped .380 pointing toward the voice in the hall. Frank unlocked the door, ready to kick it shut on an attacker. A pimply young man in a hotel uniform walked in pushing a cart with covered dishes and a coffee maker warming on battery power. He bowed slightly, plugged the unit in, and left.
“What a fuckin’ way to wake up,” Frank said. He locked the door and ran his hands through his sleep-rumpled hair. “I forgot we ordered breakfast.” He lifted the covers on the plates. “This stuff will stay warm. Let’s grab a quick shower.”
The couple behaved in the bathroom and pushed the cart near the window to have breakfast in their towels.
“You got us a nice room, baby,” he said. “Top floor. Great view. Good defensive position.”
“You’re so paranoid.”
“Better paranoid than dead.”
“Even with some of the shit you do, I feel safe with you, Frank.”
“Good.” He fed her a piece of bacon and watched her lick the grease from his fingers.
“Work or play after breakfast?” she asked.
“Play, but then we should work. We gotta find a ghost.”
Soon after they got in the car, Frank’s phone rang. He handed it to Carlotta. “Talk to Joey.”
“Joey, this is Carlotta.”
“Lemme talk to Frank.”
“I don’t care if he’s droppin’ a deuce. I need to talk to him now.”
“I’ll put you on speaker.” She touched the icon.
“No, bitch, just give Frank the fuckin’ phone!” Joey’s voice bellowed through the interior of the car.
“Joey, Frank. Show some respect, ya little shit. You’re my sister’s kid, but that don’t mean I can’t squash you like a bug. Your old man would do it in a heartbeat if he heard you. You don’t talk to a lady like that, you hear me, cocksucker?”
“Sorry, Uncle Frank.”
“Not as sorry as you’ll be if I hear you say shit like that again. Did you learn anything or not?”
“Cops found a floater and an electric wheelchair.”
“The head’s gone.”
“What the fuck are you sayin’?”
“A kid saw an electric wheelchair under some pilings at low tide. Beach patrol found a body a couple miles away. A friend sent me pics. It was an old guy. Looks like they used a saw to cut his head off. So far they haven’t found it.”
“So is it Hoffa or not?”
“Don’t know yet, but there’s more. Parnelli’s meat packing plant had a fire this morning in the offices. They say it was an explosion. Carmine Parnelli died on the way to the hospital. His brother Sonny didn’t make it outside.”
“Yeah. You think someone’s covering their tracks, boss?”
“What’s Morelli doing?”
“Sittin’ right here.”
“At the club?”
“In the office with me. He wants our help.”
Another voice came on the line. “Frank? Guido. Where are you?”
“In the car. Why are you at my club?’
“Bad shit’s happening, Frank. Watch your ass, and get back here. We need to talk, face to face, alone.”
“Why would I want to talk to you?”
“Come to my house. You have my word you’ll be safe, at least from me. When can I expect you?”
Frank veered around a corner to head back to the hotel. “Shit, Morelli, I gotta check out of the hotel and drive back. Probably eleven or twelve hours.”
“Call me when you’re close. We’ll have espresso and cigars. I have something you should read.”
“What the fuck is goin’ on, Guido?”
“Even if I knew for sure, I wouldn’t say it with your little nephew here. He’s not as good as he thinks he is, you know. We saw him at the drop. I had a man on him the whole time. Don’t bother sending Boy Wonder out of the room now, either. This ain’t stuff we talk about on the phone.”
“You’re makin’ me nervous.”
“You should be. Now, I’m gonna leave and go about my business. I’d appreciate it if kindergarten cop didn’t follow me. I’ll answer any questions you have man to man, alone.”
“You there, Joey?” Frank asked.
“Put a case of Johnny Walker Black in Mr. Morelli’s car. You still like that stuff, don’t you Guido?”
“Just like your old man did, Frank. You don’t have to do this.”
“A gesture, Guido. Token of good faith.”
“We’ll drink a toast to peace from the first bottle tonight.”
Frank said, “Joey, find out everything you can about the fire and the floater. Guido, you got guys on that?”
“We’re following every lead, and we’ll work with the kid here. Look, Frank, we don’t know if that was really our friend last night or not. Some of my guys agree with Joey. I’ll have my man Paulo share the info we have so far. We’ll take care of our end. Drive safe.” The line went dead.
Frank and Carlotta quickly checked out of the hotel and headed for home.
“Should I be scared now?” she asked.
He pushed the accelerator a little harder. “Probably.”
It was long after dark when he had her make a call for him. “Guido? We’re making good time. You’re on speaker. Carlotta’s with me. It’s okay if she hears whatever you have to say. You have my word on that. We should be there in about two hours.”
“I sent the wife and kids away for a while, but Paulo is here. Frank, I’m sure you have your father’s gun with you, probably another piece too. Carlotta has her little purse cannon and God knows what else. Bring everything inside with you. We’re armed.”
“What, you want us to shoot each other?”
“No. We need the firepower. Everyone here has a weapon. You should too. I don’t think the shit that happened so far is that last of it. Make sure you’re not followed. Announce yourself at the gate on my driveway.”
“What the fuck, Guido?”
“I’ll open up so you can drive in, but stay in your car until I flash the porch light. See you soon.”
When the call ended, Carlotta put her phone in her bag. “Frank, what’s happening?”
“Get on your Nintendo or whatever the fuck that is and find a plane ticket. You’re gonna visit your cousin Gina in Palermo. Do you have your passport with you?”
“Book the first plane to anywhere. Make the connections you need. Call your cousin and tell her you’re coming.”
“What about you?”
“They won’t let me on a commercial plane, baby.”
“I’m not going without you.”
“It’s a precaution, a vacation.”
“I’ll take a vacation with you any time, Frank, and I’ll run from danger with you, but I won’t leave you here. I may let you tie me up in bed, but don’t dismiss me as a coward!”
He touched her knee. “We could be driving into some real bad shit.”
“I know. But if I leave, you won’t be able to protect me, and I can’t be there for you. I’m in this for the long haul.”
They stopped for fuel near Guido’s house. “Call Morelli and tell him we’ll be there in half an hour. Then call Joey and see if he has anything new,” Frank said when he got out to fill the tank.
Carlotta made her calls. When they were back on the road, she said, “The floater had a piece of silicone rubber in his shirt, like from a mask.”
“What do you mean?”
“Morelli says it might have been a professional full-head mask like they wear in movies.”
“So, someone found some old guy, put a fancy mask on him, used him to make the drop, and then cut his head off, mask and all? That’s pretty fucked up.”
“Who would do such a thing, Frank? The Cubans?”
“Hell if I know. Did Morelli have any ideas?”
“He has guys working with Joey. They’ve talked to the Chinese and the Mexicans, and Yuri Stanislav called Morelli. No one knows anything.”
They drove in grim silence to Morelli’s house. The gate opened, and they went through and waited in the car until the porch light flashed. Frank got a text. “All clear. Come in.”
Paulo ushered them inside and re-set the alarm. He wore dress pants and a tie, his Kevlar vest obvious under his shirt. There was no jacket to get in the way of twin shoulder holsters.
“Subtle,” Frank smirked.
“Hopefully unnecessary. Guido’s in here. Come on.”
They followed him into Morelli’s private lounge, a classic wood-paneled room with leather couches and what appeared to be original artwork on the walls.
“Frank.” Guido extended his arms to give his old rival a hug. “Strange bedfellows, you and me. And the lovely Carlotta.” He kissed her hand with old world charm. “Sit. Espresso or a drink?”
“It was a long drive, old friend. Espresso for both of us.”
“Ha! ‘Old friend’. Your dad called my old man that. They hated each other.”
“Family tradition. Guido, I’m too tired for small talk. Whadya got?”
Paulo offered a Cuban cigar to Frank, who took two and passed one to Carlotta. She lit hers and held the flame for him.
Morelli nodded. “Change is good. Never thought I’d have a sit-down with a cigar-smoking chick. Our dads must be spinning in their graves.”
“She’s tougher than some of the boys in your crew. The girl’s good with a piece, and she plays hell with them computers of hers. She earns her keep. Now what’s going on?”
“The Parnelli fire was arson. Cops found evidence of a timer and a gasoline bomb. Apparently it was in the credenza behind Sonny’s desk. A bodyguard dragged his little brother Carmine outside, but he was dead on arrival at the hospital. Six dead, and the bodyguard was airlifted to a burn unit.”
“Shit,” Frank said. “Who planted the bomb?”
Paulo answered. “My mole with the cops has nothing. Crude timer anyone could make and two five-gallon metal gas cans. No leads on the floater. The wheelchair was stolen from the same place as the van.”
Guido continued, “The Russians are scared. Stanislav told me the van and chair came from a shop that pays protection to him. Someone disabled the security system there before the theft, so they got zilch. Same with the Parnellis. Stanislav’s cousin died in that fire, so he thinks he’s a target, too. It’s all connected, but no one knows how yet.”
“Who’s crazy enough to start a war?” Frank wondered.
“Good question,” Morelli answered. “I don’t know.”
“You were school pals with Russell Buffalino, right? You probably know a hell of a lot more about Hoffa’s disappearance than the feds do.”
“I asked Russ about it right after Hoffa vanished, because I knew they had a beef. He said he was nowhere near that house in Detroit. We talked about it a lot, right up until Russ died. My family had dealings with Jimmy Hoffa. So did yours. I wanted info like everyone else did, but he claimed he knew nothing.”
Frank puffed on his cigar. “I knew you raised quick cash, so I got curious. I think it’s time you told me what you bought.”
“It’s all spread out on the table over there. Union records, court transcripts, receipts, letters, classified FBI files. I haven’t gone through it all yet, but it looks more like the makings of a crime novel than anything real valuable. So far I don’t think I got my money’s worth.”
“Could it get people indicted?”
“Those who didn’t get whacked, yes. Some wise guys would have died in prison if the information had come out years ago. A couple fellows from the union would have done hard time, along with at least one investigator, and some interesting people made money, but everyone’s dead. This is all stuff from the 1960s and 1970s.”
“You paid a lot for it.”
“Three million. Thought I was buying leverage.”
“Be straight with me. Your boys didn’t bat an eye when Jimmy Hoffa rolled up. Why?”
Morelli played with his cigar ash. “The caller sounded like shit on the phone, like he couldn’t breathe right, so a half-dead-looking guy in a wheelchair made sense. It was midnight, lousy lighting. One of the boys said he looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure until he did a search online for Hoffa.”
“Why was Hoffa selling to you?”
“Carmine Parnelli called last week. Said he had shit that would be dangerous in the wrong hands. It was more damaging to my friends and family than his, so he and his brother weren’t that interested. Said he was brokering a deal. I asked for who. He said that was on a need to know basis, and I didn’t need to know until I paid. We set up a meet. Then I got a call on my private line from ‘a friend of my grandfather’. Some guy wheezing and coughing. Said he’s the seller and wants to cut out the middle man – a million off the price. Wouldn’t say his name, just that he’s not supposed to be alive. We checked. It was a throw-away phone bought in Detroit.”
“That’s where we were this morning,” Frank said.
“Chasing the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa?” Guido smiled. “Thought so.”
“Seemed like the best place to start. That’s where his trail ends.”
“The Parnellis were greedy bastards, so I didn’t mind cutting them out of the deal, but I didn’t kill them. The only stuff I found in that briefcase so far that’s real news is stuff about Hoffa himself, and even that doesn’t matter much now.”
“Why would he sell incriminating evidence about himself?”
Guido laughed. “Obviously it wasn’t Hoffa. The guy in the chair didn’t say a word – just rolled up to my boys with the case on his lap. Barely nodded when my guy reached for it. They said he looked half dead. They could hear him wheezing. Everyone agreed he had to be at least ninety.”
“No one figured out it was a mask?”
“It was fuckin’ dark, Frank! Would your guys suspect a mask after I told them the guy sounded like shit? When the guy’s body looked as bad as the face?”
“Probably not. But why go to all that trouble with the disguise? And who was the floater?”
“I can answer the last question,” Carlotta said, not looking up from her tablet. “He had a concentration camp tattoo. Jakob Klein, liberated from Auschwitz when he was twenty-three, which means he’s about ninety-three now. Last known address was a shelter, but he left there a month ago.”
“Why cut off his head?” Frank asked.
“Why cut off his head with the mask on? Seems like that’s what they did,” Guido said. “I can see killing the poor schmuck to hide your tracks, but the mutilation is creepy. I get the idea of a mask, too, but why have one made to look like Hoffa?”
“Where do you get something like that?” Paulo asked.
Carlotta busied herself with her screen. “There was a little special effects shop in the Bronx that did custom masks for films and stage. Very high end. One man operation. It closed last month when the owner died.”
“How did he die?” Frank asked.
Her screen refreshed. “Officially, suicide – single round to the temple point blank. The gun had the serial number filed off.”
“Execution,” Morelli snorted. “Now we know where the mask came from. Doesn’t help much if the guy who made it can’t tell us who bought it.”
“Hoffa had kids,” Frank said. “We should check them out.”
“Already on it,” Paulo answered. “Friends of ours are shadowing both of them, tapped their phones, hacked their computers, bugged their offices, the works. So far, nothing. Looks like they don’t have a clue.”
“We don’t either,” Frank grumbled, “and it makes me damn nervous.”
“Joey put a detail of men at your house to guard it, but you’re welcome to stay here tonight,” Guido said. “My ‘ornamental’ fence around the property carries enough juice to fry an elephant. I have men hidden outside and two snipers on the roof. We’re safe here.”
“I hate hiding, Morelli. That ain’t like me.”
“Don’t think of it as hiding, Frank. For all we know, whoever is behind this knows exactly where we are. If he does, he knows we’re in a good defensive position. Short of an air strike, we won’t have problems here. Since you were in Detroit, I assume you have bags in your car.”
“Give the keys to Paulo. He’ll have one of the men get your things and take them to the guest suite. There’s only one bed. I hope that’s not a problem.”
“Not at all, Mr. Morelli. We thank you for your hospitality,” Carlotta said. She stared at the older man until he chuckled and broke eye contact.
“I like this woman,” he said to Frank. “There’s fire in those eyes.”
“She’s good to me. I trust her more than anyone.”
“Even your old man?” Guido teased.
“Especially my old man.”
“Your father was almost as much of a son of a bitch as mine. That’s why they hated each other. I wouldn’t believe either of them if I asked the time, but they made us the guys we are, Frank. We wouldn’t be this far without them. Let’s drink a toast to the old days.” He opened a bottle of Johnnie Walker and pulled out four small tumblers. “Soda? Ice?”
“Two fingers, neat,” Carlotta said, and the others nodded.
When they finished their drinks, Guido escorted the couple to the guest suite. Their bags were waiting for them. “If you hear something on the roof, it’s my guys. No one else can get up there. Hope you get a good night’s sleep. We have a lot to do tomorrow.” He closed the door behind him on his way out.
“I need a shower,” Frank said. “I’m beat from that drive.” He stripped and headed for the bathroom.
“I’ll wash your back,” Carlotta said, pulling off the last of her own clothing. “And your front.”
He really was tired, but her soapy hands gently massaging his cock and balls gave him new energy. “You’re such a bad employee.”
“I’m sorry, Boss. Do you need to spank me? It might really sting with us being all wet.” She turned and rubbed her ripe ass on him.
He gave her left buttock a firm slap, making bits of suds fly. He repeated the action on the right one.
She moaned and wiggled her hips. “I’m sorry I’m such a bad worker.”
He spanked her again.
She bent over and steadied herself on the tub faucet. “Punish me, Boss.”
He used both hands, cupped just right, to spank her ass loudly. When she squealed, he did it again, smacking the tops of her buttocks on the down-stroke, and slapping the bottom of her ass on his way back up. Soon, watching her cheeks dance and hearing her gasp was too much for him. He grabbed her and forced himself inside her slippery pussy.
“I’m a bad secretary. Fuck me. Cum inside my naughty little cunt!”
They mated roughly until she got her full punishment.
In the morning, the couple found Guido in his study.
“Ah, there you are. Did you sleep well?”
“Nice room, Guido. You should bring the wife and kids and go out on my boat with me when this shit dies down.”
“That’s not happening yet. I just got off the phone with Paulo. The cops are ready to release the identity of the floater based on his tattoo. They’re calling it a random hate crime against an old Jew.”
Frank scoffed, “Wonder who paid for that story.”
“They may believe it,” Guido said. “Unofficially, it’s a closed case. If they don’t find the head with the mask on it, they’ll file the whole mess and move on. The victim had a long history of petty crime and alcoholism and a ton of booze in him, so he was probably black-out drunk when they killed him. No one is saying shit about the piece of silicone. It doesn’t show up in the list of evidence from the scene or the autopsy report.”
“A cover-up?” Frank asked.
“Probably a fuck-up. Someone lost it or threw it away.”
“You realize what this means, gentlemen,” Carlotta said. “The cops don’t know about a Hoffa impersonator. They’re not going to look in the right places.”
“They won’t,” Morelli agreed. “They’re not gonna look much at all if they think it’s some weird street punk crime. We pay enough cops we’d know if they had something. Part of me wishes they did.”
“The less the cops know, the better,” Frank stated.
“Normally you’d be right, but if they figure out who is behind this we don’t have to. The cops don’t see a connection. They’re investigating the Parnelli fire, but they think it was about drugs. They know the Parnellis had bad blood with the Colombians.”
“Not the Colombians’ style,” Carlotta said. “They wouldn’t build a covert bomb. They’d shoot their way in and use flamethrowers.”
“She’s right. The Colombians had nothing to do with it. Got a call from my man in Bogota just before you came downstairs. He said the cops are up everyone’s ass here, and agents are asking questions down there, but it wasn’t them. He asked what I knew. Sounded more scared than me.”
“What the fuck?” Frank fumed. “I didn’t think them Colombians were scared of anything.”
“May I look at your purchases, Mr. Morelli?” Carlotta asked.
“Of course. It’s Guido to my friends. I already went through the pile on the left.”
“You spent a lot of money, so if no one has any other ideas, we might as well look there.”
A man in an apron and shoulder holster brought a cart into the room so the trio could have breakfast as they read.
After about an hour Carlotta said, “Found something.”
“What?” Morelli asked.
“The money trail, maybe. There’s a stack of IOUs here, all marked paid except one made out to James Riddle Hoffa for a hundred thousand dollars and signed by Angelo Carpucci. This is from 1959. Doesn’t look like Carpucci paid the money back.”
“Shit! A hundred grand was real money in those days,” Frank said. “Wonder why Hoffa didn’t collect.”
“Maybe making the guy sign an IOU kept him on the hook so Hoffa could use him or the building later,” Guido speculated. “Who is Angelo Carpucci?”
Carlotta searched the web. “Carpucci bought the building where the mask shop was from a foreclosure auction the day after he signed the IOU. His grandson Antonio was the guy who made masks.”
“Wait,” Frank said. “Hoffa fronted the money for the building to the grandfather of the guy who made the mask that geezer wore to the drop?”
“And Antonio, the mask guy, supposedly offed himself with a street gun last month,” Morelli said. “How convenient.”
“The guy who torched Parnellis’ office and cut off that old wino’s head bought a Hoffa mask and sold Hoffa documents,” Frank mused.
“At least the same group of guys,” Guido said, “but who?”
Frank threw up his hands in disgust. “How the fuck do we figure this out?”
“Gentleman,” Carlotta asked, “may I make a suggestion?”
“What?” Morelli said.
“This thing has everyone running in circles. Maybe a sit-down with the other families to share information would be a good idea.”
“I ain’t sitting down with no Colombians,” Frank stated.
“Wait, Frank,” Guido said. “She may be right. The Colombians are scared, the Russians are terrified, everyone is spooked and chasing their tails. If we all meet we can plan our defense.”
“Do you trust some of them guys, Guido? I sure as hell don’t.”
“Of course I don’t trust them, but they’re not stupid. They’re trying to figure out what’s happening too. Hell, I never thought I’d invite you to my home, but here you are.
“Yeah. Okay. Like you said – strange bedfellows. Where do you want to meet?”
“My warehouse on the highway. It’s all open ground, so it will be easy to set up guards to see if anyone is coming. Friday night, seven o’clock?”
“Your Spanish is better than mine, so you can talk to all them guys and the Russians. I’ll get word to the other families and the Chinese. Carlotta, let’s go. We got shit to do.”
Friday evening a procession of expensive cars made their way to Morelli’s warehouse. There were sentries everywhere. None of the guests tried to pretend they weren’t heavily armed as they took seats on folding chairs set up in an area inside.
“Thank you all for coming,” Morelli said. “As you know, we have a problem.”
“Yeah, and some cocksucker in this room is responsible,” Frank muttered to Carlotta seated next to him.
“As you know, there have been casualties. I’ve been in touch with some of you personally, and the rest were invited by others. Someone is fucking with the status quo. We need to figure out who it is and stop him.”
“With respect, Don Morelli,” a voice called out. “Who says it’s not one of us?”
“It’s possible it is. One man, or one organization, is out of line. None of us wants a war, but everyone needs to understand – when we find out who is behind this, there will be reprisals.”
“Sounds like war to me,” Stanislav the Russian said. “My cousin died in fire-bombing.”
“There will be no war among us if no one has anything to hide,” Morelli declared. “We need to organize ourselves ….”
He was interrupted by small arms fire outside. Every person in the room pulled a gun. Four men with automatic weapons went to the door. Joey and Paulo came in, supporting a man between them bleeding from a leg wound. They dumped him at Morelli’s feet.
“Boss,” Paulo said, “we caught him and his friends messing with the gas mains. They had C-4 and blasting caps with them. They opened fire on us. We’re fine. They ain’t. This lucky schmuck survived.”
Morelli knelt next to the wounded man. “Who do you work for, my friend?”
“They’ll kill me if I tell.”
“I’ll kill you myself if you don’t, and I’ll take my good sweet time about it. Now, who sent you?”
“I don’t know no names. A dude said he heard someone was looking for a man who knew gas mains.”
“Who was this ‘dude’?” Morelli demanded.
“He sat next to me at a bar last week when I was in my gas company uniform. Asked if I wanted to do some side work for cash.”
“You’re bleeding badly, son,” Morelli said. “Finish your story so we can get you medical attention.”
“I don’t know nuthin’ else!”
Morelli kicked the man’s wounded leg. “Sure you do. Talk to me, and we’ll all be buddies.”
When he stopped screaming, the man sobbed, “I gave him my number. Got a text saying to be here at six o’clock. The other guys didn’t know nuthin’ neither, I swear. There was a head dude and some goons with guns. They said we’d each earn fifty grand, but they’d kill us if we told or fucked up. They was waitin’ for a phone call when your guys found us.”
“Give me names,” Morelli said.
“The dude on the phone gave us numbers. No one used a name.”
Morelli put his shoe on the man’s leg wound. “You’re not holding out on me?”
“That’s everything!” he blubbered. “I don’t know nuthin’! I don’t even know who you people are! Please!”
Morelli stuffed a wad of cash in the man’s shirt pocket. “This should be enough to keep your mouth shut.” He motioned to Paulo. “Put a tourniquet on him. Get someone to dump him at an emergency room. Push him out of the car and blow the horn. Use a car with stolen plates.”
“Got it, boss.” Paulo had two of the guards carry the wounded man outside.
When they were gone, Morelli said, “Well. That pretty much rules out anyone in this room. An enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine. We must set aside our differences until we get through this.”
“Frank, I don’t like having a man right outside the door,” Carlotta complained that night in bed.
“Beats getting stabbed in our sleep,” Frank said.
“Does danger turn you on, honey?”
He felt between the legs. “It turns you on. You’re soaked.”
“It would be really slutty to fuck with another man ten feet away,” she giggled.
He pulled her hand to his hardening cock. “I like it when you’re slutty.”
She closed her fingers around it. “When I’m slutty, I’m loud.”
He kissed her roughly, then stripped off her panties. “You won’t make much noise with these in your mouth.”
She wiped her wet slit with her fingers and held them to his nose. “Let’s find out.”
He inhaled her ripe aroma and licked her flavor off. “You’re gonna get fucked right tonight, baby.”
She spread her legs wide and rubbed herself. “Go ahead.”
He gathered both her wrists in one hand over her head to kiss her breasts. “Haven’t put a load on these puppies lately.”
“Later. The first one goes against my cervix.”
He found his mark and plunged home in one fast stroke. He held it there, amazed at her wetness.
She wriggled under his weight until she stretched enough to be comfortable. “I want you to make me pregnant before I get too old.”
He pulled almost out of her and then pushed back in. “We’ll get engaged when this crap is over. When we get close to the wedding, you go off the pill, and we use something else until the honeymoon.”
She locked her ankles behind him. “Is that a proposal?”
“If you say ‘yes’, it is.”
She used her legs to grind herself against him. “Yes.”
He plowed her deeply, slowly at first, but speeding up as their passion rose. Frank knew the man at the door could hear them. The knowledge made him pound her harder.
“Fuck me, Frank!” she moaned, clamping herself to him tighter than ever. As her climax rose, she felt him get bigger and even harder. She mashed her fist into her mouth to stifle her cries when he pulsed and filled her.
Spent, they clung to each other when he pulled out. When they were almost calm, she put her hand on his wet penis. “You said something earlier about cumming on my tits.”
Frank’s phone woke the couple at dawn.
“Boss, it’s Joey. Hate to wake you up, but there’s news.”
“This better be good,” Frank yawned.
“Hoffa did it all.”
“What the fuck you talkin’ about?”
“Surveillance video from the Parnelli fire and the warehouse yesterday. The Chinese have some guy who’s good with that enhancement shit. There was an old guy who looked a lot like Hoffa sitting in the passenger seat of a car across the road when the bomb went off and when the shooting started yesterday. Different car each time, sped away when shit went down.”
“Dammit. So there’s more than one mask,” Frank said.
“Or this time it could really be Hoffa.”
“That’s crazy talk, Joey. You woke me for this?”
“And to tell you Yuri Stanislav is dead.”
“Car bomb. Wife and kids too.”
“Who kills kids, boss?”
“Someone ruthless. Of course, no one knows nuthin’, right?
“Not yet. We’re workin’ on it.”
“All right. Does Morelli know?”
“Paulo called me, and it’s on the news.”
“Listen to me, Joey. Get your mom out of town. Don’t tell no one where she’s going, not even me. No phones. Tell her to lay low. Don’t trust nobody. Take care of my sister. Do it now.”
“I’ll keep her safe, Uncle Frank.”
“Get dressed, baby,” Frank said when he hung up his phone. “Someone took out Yuri Stanislav and his family.”
“No! She was pregnant!” Carlotta cried.
Carlotta drove them to the club in her car while Frank called Morelli.
“I assume you heard about Stanislav,” Guido said when he answered. “Where are you?”
“On the way to the office in Carlotta’s car. It was locked in the garage all night, and not too many people will recognize it. We’ll pull it inside the delivery entrance at the club.”
“Good thinking, but none of us are safe.”
“No shit, Guido.”
“The cops say the bomb under Stanislav’s car was triggered remotely. It was warm last night, so a neighbor had her window open. She heard Stanislav pull out of his garage. A cell phone rang just before the blast. Whoever did it had to be somewhere with a view. The thing didn’t explode until they were in the street.”
“He was leaving in the middle of the night with the wife and kids?”
“Stanislav had the shit scared out of him.”
“Me too,” Frank admitted. “Stanislav probably had cameras.”
“And bright street lights. Paulo took a copy of the video to that Chinese guy. A car drove right past Stanislav’s Mercedes fireball. Old guy in the passenger’s seat looks like the one from before.”
“Or another mask, yeah. No good image of the driver – could be a man or a woman. Plates were stolen according to the police database.”
“We gotta fight this fucker,” Frank snarled.
“Yes, when we figure out who it is. Go to your club. Have someone go over the car before you pull it inside. We don’t know when the bomb was planted under Stanislav – it could have been there for days. Lay low for a while. Have your men check your whole place. I’ll be in touch.” Morelli disconnected the call.
“I’m scared, Frank,” Carlotta said.
“Me too, baby. Me too.”
The club premises got a thorough housecleaning that morning. After lunch, the private line on Frank’s desk phone rang. “Yeah?”
“Frankie,” the caller wheezed. “You did some cleaning this morning.”
“You got the wrong number, pal,” Frank said.
“No I don’t, Frankie.”
“Who the fuck is this?”
“C’mon, Frankie. Our families go back a long way.”
“I don’t have much time left. That’s why I’m settling old scores. Shit didn’t go the way it was supposed to, so I’m trying to fix it.”
“What score do you have with me?”
The man made a sound like he was bringing up phlegm. “I was dumb the other day trying to take everyone out at once. Some of them guys had nuthin’ to do with my problems, so maybe it’s good I hired a bunch of meatheads.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Frank roared.
The voice on the other end chuckled. “Just like your old man with the big mouth. I ain’t gonna say my name over the phone, and you shouldn’t either. Do you have any idea how my times the feds have tapped your line, kid?”
“What do you want with me?”
“Do you remember where you caught your first fish, Frankie? You bragged about it for a month. You and your grandpa were on some guy’s boat.”
“Remember where he kept that boat?”
“Yeah. The owner went bust years ago. It’s abandoned, but it hasn’t changed much. Remember the tackle shop? Be there at midnight. Come alone, Frankie. I’ll know.” He coughed and hung up the phone.
Frank lit a cigar and paced his office, puffing smoke like a locomotive.
Carlotta walked in. “Baby, that call bypassed me.”
“Who was it?”
“He wants me to think he’s Jimmy Hoffa.”
“What did he say?”
A waitress from the club knocked on the doorframe. “Mr. Salvatore? I’m sorry to barge in, sir, but you should turn on the news.” She scooted out of the office suite.
Frank grabbed the remote. The flat screen on the wall winked to life in the middle of a live feed from a cute young reporter. “Witnesses say the car was raked by automatic weapons fire on the street near his home. Mr. Morelli and his driver were pronounced dead at the scene. The shooter’s vehicle was found abandoned in an alley a few blocks south. We’ll have updates as we get more information.”
The private line rang again. “Did you see the news?” the voice wheezed. “Almost tried to sell that attache case to you, but I needed cash, and Morelli had it. Then I learned shit about him. Hang on.” He made some wet coughing and spitting sounds. “Morelli was a scumbag. He lied about Buffalino to the cops, so he probably lied to you. Anyway, don’t tell no one about our meeting, and don’t be late.” The phone went dead.
“Now you need to get on a plane, baby.”
“Not without you,” Carlotta stated.
“C’mere.” He held his arms out to her, and she went to him. “You’re staying in the apartment upstairs here tonight. The guys just went through the place top to bottom. I’ll have Angelo get someone to give it a good cleaning and make up the bed.”
She pulled back to look at him. “I’m staying here alone? Where will you be?”
“I have a late night errand to run. We’ll have dinner here, go upstairs, play around, and then I have to go out for a while, so I’ll need to use your car. I’ll try not to wake you up when I get back.”
“Where are you going?”
He kissed her. “Can’t tell you that, baby. Somethin’ I gotta do.”
That evening after dinner, Frank and Carlotta went upstairs to the room where they first made love. She was a cocktail waitress working her way through college. The bartender got another girl to cover her station while she went upstairs to talk to the boss. When she came down the next morning she was the club’s new computer manager.
“Remember our first night?” Carlotta asked. Her top was already on the chair.
“I knew I’d fall in love with you if you actually came up here.”
She was down to the lacy bra and boy shorts he bought her for Christmas. “I was all set to be little Miss Innocent with you. Some of the other girls knew about your love nest.”
Frank chuckled as he undressed. “You know I never brought another girl up here after that. You reformed me.”
She pulled the covers down and lay there on full display. “Reformed you? Is that what they called it in your neighborhood? I always called it sucking.”
He lay down naked beside her and pulled her into his arms. “There was that, yeah, but we talked all night. I knew I didn’t want no one else by morning.”
“I came up here because I was desperate for a raise and heard this was a quick way to get one. I wasn’t looking for love, but I knew I found it.” She snuggled against him. “When do you have to leave?”
“About two hours.”
She reached down to his manhood, hard against her leg. “I thought you were going to fuck me and ask me to leave that night. You didn’t. With two hours to spend, you can make love to me like now you did then.”
He fondled her breast. “Guess we’re skipping the early part where I coaxed your clothes off.”
She stroked him when she felt him leak on her hand. “I tried to act shy.”
“Your act kinda fell apart when you tore a button off my shirt.”
“You had two fingers inside me by then. I gave up on pretending.”
They mated like they had the first time, familiarity not dampening the excitement. Each kiss was like the first, each touch felt new. They didn’t need to say a word to get what they needed from each other. The music from the club below hid her wails of pleasure, and the bass track covered his grunts when he emptied himself into her.
Sated, they cuddled. “If this thing I gotta do tonight goes okay, we’re going ring shopping tomorrow,” he said.
“You have to leave soon, don’t you?”
She watched him dress. “I want you to wake me up when you get back.”
“It might be pretty late.”
“You said I ‘reformed’ you the first night.”
He gazed at her pretty face and proud breasts, hardly changed from the girl he thought he would use to get his rocks off like so many others. “You did, Carlotta.”
She licked her lips. “I want to do my definition of ‘reform’ when you get back. Go. Be safe.”
He kissed her gently and left.
The gate in the rusty chain link fence at the marina was open. Frank idled through, lights off, relying on the occasional working security lamp to guide him to the tackle shop. He parked and got out of his car. No movement, the only sound coming from wavelets licking at rotten moorings.
His phone startled him. Restricted number. “Yeah?”
The voice wheezed, “My chair sucks on gravel, and the light’s bad. I’m on the other side of the shack.”
“How do I know you’re alone?” Frank asked.
A cough was the answer. “You don’t. But you can probably hear me without the damn phone, and you can move better than me, so get over here.”
Frank walked around the decrepit building, gun in hand.
A man sat in shadows in a motorized wheelchair. “Put the gun away, Frankie. Guns make me nervous.”
“I think I’ll keep it out.”
“What is this?” Frank demanded.
“If I wasn’t stuck in this damn chair I’d smack that attitude out of you. Put the fuckin’ gun away.”
“Who are you?”
The man coughed for a while. “I don’t have much time, Frankie. But I’m tired of hiding. Now put the damn piece away so we can talk.”
Reluctantly, Frank did. “Is that you, Jimmy? Mr. Hoffa?”
“Carpucci had real talent, didn’t he? He used new materials in a trade handed down from his father and grandfather. The old man never paid the loan back because their skills were valuable. At this distance I bet you can’t tell if this is a mask.”
“What the fuck do you want?”
“I’m tidying up before I die. Repaying favors good and bad. Dad was a fair man, you know.”
Three silenced bullets whooshed from under the lap robe, disabling both Frank’s arms and one leg, dropping him to the ground. “That’s why I wanted you to put the gun away,” the man said. He discarded the robe, displaying his own firearm between skinny legs. “Haven’t walked for years, and it’s getting worse. It’s degenerative.”
“What the fuck?” Frank moaned.
The man pulled his mask off with his good hand.
“You shot me, motherfucker! Who are you? What do you want? Why are you doing this? I’m bleedin’ bad here.”
“I found some poor drunk to play the role with Morelli’s guys, but I wanted the real fun for myself. Your father helped fuck over my father. I’m James Riddle Hoffa’s other son.”
“Bradley Allen. It’s good to finally meet you, since I know so much about you.”
“What the fuck! You been followin’ me?”
“Of course. When I was a kid I went with Dad sometimes, so I learned how to do it. His so-called hit was a ruse. He knew one was coming, so he faked it himself. Cost him a fortune to keep people quiet. I was born in 1976. Dad was on the run, but he met a girl. I’m the result – the son of a man who was supposed to be long dead. You wouldn’t believe the places I called home. I look too much like him. Wore wigs and make-up to go out for years. Masks are easier now with only one good hand.”
Frank was getting weak. “If you been hiding all your life, why wear a mask that looks like your old man now?”
“For this deal I thought it would be fun to look more like I imagine Dad would look if he were still alive instead of less.” He coughed a smile. “Guess I’m doing things in his honor.”
“Why are you killing people?”
“Dad gave me a list before he died of people he wished he could have rewarded or punished and why. Info on where to find you, everything. I almost burned it, but then I got sick. Being disabled gave me time to track everyone down. Now I’m doing what Dad couldn’t before I die too.
“You’re on the list. Your old man was a rat. He told the feds stuff, the union, the mob, anyone who would pay. Bit the hands that fed him. Where do you think all the money came from? He was too lazy to earn it. Just like you.”
“I work hard.”
“Maybe, but you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. I don’t even have a birth certificate. Your lazy ass father was one of the reasons.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
He fished a handkerchief from his pocket and spit into it. “I told you. Cleaning up loose ends. Settling scores. Booze took your old man, so I came for you. You were a pain in the ass to get to, with your geek gun moll whore at your side all the time. She’s a loose end too, but she’ll be easy to deal with when you’re gone.”
“Leave Carlotta out of this.”
Jimmy Hoffa’s bastard son raised his gun again. “People have to pay for their sins, Frankie.” He shot him in the other leg and turned to roll away. “Bleed out, and pay for yours.”