In the years surrounding World War II, a gritty Italian-American community in the shadow of New York City known as Narrows Gate is home to brutal wise guys, a gifted crooner hell bent on success and two young friends who have no idea what the future holds – or how it can rip them apart.
Crime, rank ambition and the promise of the American dream battle for the souls of Bebe Marsala, the talented, compromised crooner; the happy-go-lucky Sal Benno, who is trapped by the mob; and Leo Bell, a newly minted member of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. A powerful epic, Jim Fusilli’s saga races to Hollywood, Havana, Las Vegas and the battlefields of Sicily before it explodes in an unexpected and unforgettable conclusion.
Moran’s big neon sign out front was shut down, its steady buzz silent.
“The bouncer’s not here,” Bebe said.
“You sure?” Fortune asked.
“His car’s gone. Stub usually puts it under the sign.”
Chiasso drove slowly into the lot and parked in the back under dense trees.
Mimmo and Bebe watched as Chiasso jumped out and hurried around to the trunk. A moment later, his arms full, he crouched behind the only other vehicle in the lot. With little effort, he popped its trunk and stashed a gas can, empty liquor bottles and oily rags inside.
Fortune leaned on the backseat. “Bebe, where’s Moran?”
“In his office,” he said. His throat was as dry as sand. “There’s a safe in the floor.”
Mimmo laughed. “Bebe wants we should rob the place.”
“Go say hello.”
“Go say hello,” Fortune repeated.
Bebe eased out of the car, the door creaking, and walked across the lot, limping a bit as he crunched stone underfoot, looking for the orange sky above the Saint Tropez. Chiasso left the side door unlocked. Bebe entered the inn. The main room was empty, chairs upside down on tabletops, the dance floor swept clean. At the bar, the cash-register drawer was open.
Bebe stopped and took a look at the bandstand, then went toward the long corridor that held the restrooms and, at the far end, Moran’s office. Halfway down the hall, he tugged his sleeves until they covered his wrists, checked the cuffs on his dungarees, lifted his cap to smooth out his hair. He cleared his throat to greet his former boss, who by now in Bebe’s mind, hadn’t given him solid advice, but had treated him like he pissed the rug.
Bebe pushed the door. “Hey, Eddie Moran—”
The Ear was tied to his desk, his arms and legs splayed, clothesline around his ankles and wrists, his stomach like a mountain. He had a big mouse above his left eye.
Bebe watched as Chiasso prepared a gag for Moran’s mouth.
“Bill, what did I do to you?” the club owner said, turning his head. “Tell me.”
“You should’ve let me sing on the radio.”
“And this is what I deserve? He tried to take my head off.”
Chiasso watched as Moran struggled.
“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack,” Bebe said. His mother told him to put up a front.
Nobody in the crew should see him scared.
“What’s he gonna do, Bill? For God’s sakes, Bill, don’t let him—”
In went the gag. Chiasso tied it so tight Moran’s lips tore at the corners.
Bebe felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sit down,” Fortune said. “Over there.”
An old leather sofa rested against a wall lined with old photos of log cabins out west, a few coated in snow, scowling big-boned men and women posing, their expressions blank. Like he was told, Bebe sat and the sofa went oomph.
Then he saw Mimmo had carried in a brown paper sack. He wore workmen’s gloves.
“Somebody burned down our club,” Fortune said as he walked toward Moran. “Mimmo here thinks maybe it was you.”
“You’re some son of a bitch,” Mimmo said, “burning down our club.”
The Ear rattled in denial.
“So we’re taking your club,” Fortune said.
The gag muffled Moran’s protest.
“Look,” Mimmo said. “He thinks it’s a good idea.”
Moran continued to argue. But then he stopped and sagged.
“You keep the union job,” Fortune said, as he nodded to Mimmo.
Bebe saw Mimmo dig into the brown-paper bag and pull out a can. Paint Thinner, read the label.
Next, Mimmo produced a funnel.
“Go ahead,” Fortune said.
Moran’s eyes opened wide and he let loose a high-pitched scream, his back arching off the desktop.
Chiasso grabbed his head in two hands and snapped it to the side.
Without realizing he had, Bebe left the sofa and was standing next to Fortune. He was shaking. “Oh Jesus,” he moaned as Mimmo shoved the funnel deep into Moran’s ear.
With a swipe of his thumb, Mimmo spun the cap off the paint-thinner can.
“Acid,” Fortune said, loud enough for Moran to hear.
As Chiasso pressed Moran’s head against the desktop, Mimmo filled the funnel. It flowed down smooth, no problem, but as it began to burn through tissue, it started to bubble. What came back up was laced with blood.
Moran continued screaming, his face turning purple, the veins in his temple pulsing, legs trembling.
Mimmo stopped the flow. He looked down, but the smell made him recoil.
Mouth open, jaw slack, Bebe stared in shock, as the scent of searing flesh filled the office.
Fortune said, “Let’s go, Bebe.”
When he didn’t move, Fortune grabbed his arm.
Retreating, Bebe watched as Mimmo brought a towel from the sack. He placed it around the narrow end of the funnel as he wriggled it from Moran’s ear, going careful like he didn’t want to scar his face too. As Boo undid the knots in the cord, Mimmo said, “Moran, you want to keep the other ear…”
Squirming in anguish, Moran wriggled and then fell off the desk, hitting the floor with a thud.
The burning sky behind them, they went back the way they came. Every now and then, Chiasso raised his right hand off the steering wheel, flexed it and studied his bruised knuckles. Down below the Palisades, he pulled over to lose the brown sack and its contents, including the blood-tipped funnel.
“Why do that?”
Fortune sat up and stared at Bebe. “What?”
“He would’ve gave up the club,” Bebe said, talking to the windshield, the dark winding road up ahead. “You had him beat.”
“There’s no rules, Bebe,” Mimmo said, clapping the kid on the shoulder. “The fuck stood in the way.”
“I didn’t think…” he stammered. “I didn’t know…”
“Yeah. Well…” Fortune said. “Now you do.”
They headed up the bumpy cobblestone road to the boulevard that led back to Narrows Gate.