Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Charley and Meyer and Owney



Owney Madden got out of the big Packard and slammed the door. He straightened his back and stretched. Put his head back and took a deep breath. He loved the smell of the city. The smell of wet asphalt after the early evening rain was a bracing tonic for his soul.  Ever since he had come back from Sing Sing he always stopped to savor his freedom. Simply because he knew how fleeting freedom could be. They could take it away from him so quickly. He had to enjoy it while he could.

He reached up to make sure that his fedora was set at its proper place. Jaunty but not at a foolish angle that some of the boyo’s aped as they tried to be stylish. Owney liked to look right. Not foolish. He couldn’t afford to look foolish. It would be a death sentence.

He approached the door of the ginmill and stopped. His driver Feeney jumped in front of him to open the door. Owney nodded at him and walked through the door. Les majeste could not be tolerated. You had to show that you were the king. All the time. Without exception.

Owney stood at the front of the bar and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark interior. There were several men all sitting separately at tables and booths along the wall.  One man sat alone at the far end of the bar nursing a whiskey. A nondescript man. A tired….. no an exhausted man. A man in his thirties who looked like he was much older. One you would pass in the street without a backward glance. He had on workingman’s clothing and was wearing a tin flat cap. Shabby but clean he seemed like every other poor soul that was wandering through this Depression. Except for one difference.

He had killed more men than anyone else extant in New York City.


Owney took off his fedora and held it behind his back where it was immediately taken by Feeney. He shrugged out of his overcoat as Feeney took it off his shoulders like some great lord’s valet in Buckingham Palace.

He walked down to the bar and stood next to the man at the end of the bar.

“Excuse me Mr. Deasy but I wondered if we might have a word?” Owney inquired gently. So gently that the bar tender took a step back. You didn’t want to be around Owney Madden spoke softly. 

Generally that meant that someone was going to die.

Sean Deasy slowly turned his gaze to the dapper gang leader. His eyes were dead. Unfathomable grief and horror could be glimpsed in brief flecks and flashes. Or at least his conceit was that they were visible for all to see. Which is why he seldom looked anyone in the eye. He knew Medusa’s pain. It was his own.

“Madden is it?” he whispered in soft brogue with a voice strained by drink and grief. “I am not of a mind for craic these days. So you will forgive me if I turn my attention to my dram and my thoughts. Both of which are my own.”

“I don’t want to disturb you in your thoughts. Truly that is the last thing I would want to do. But I have something I need to talk to you about and I would ask that you spare me a few moments if you could find it in the goodness of your heart. It is passing important.”

Sean Deasy looked at Owney Madden and thought for a moment. Dangerous men recognize each other. Much as the python and the cobra could see each other and each go their separate ways. There was nothing to be gained by combat with someone as deadly as yourself.

“You are a serious man Mr. Madden to be sure. So I suppose I should listen. Set and tell me what it is you want to say.”

“Thank you Mr. Deasy.” Owney sat on the stool next to him. The bartender rushed up and set a cup of tea in front of him without having to ask. Owney seldom drank when he was out in the world. He couldn’t allow himself the distraction.

“You have had word of your brother I would reckon” Owney said. “He was released by the government and is living quietly in Dublin.”

“So is it a Collins man you are Mr. Madden and come to take revenge? I don’t much care anymore so do your worst. It is all of the same to me.”

“No not a Collins man at all Mr. Deasy. Sure and enough the Big Man was a true hero but that is none of my business or the business of any of the Irish on this side of the ocean. We left all of that behind. Much as I assume you have as well.”

“Left it behind? Would that would be so. I carry it with me every day. A burden it is. A burden sure enough.”

“My business is of a different sort. As no doubt you are aware. A business that could use a man of your talents. You have spent yourself in the service of a cause. A cause that has broken you and your brother and left you alone on these shores bereft of kith and kin. I would change that if you would let me.”

“I have no kin Mr. Madden. I have foresworn my brother ever since he signed over his soul to betray his mates to the swine in the Free State. Me Ma is long dead and Da was never but a faded memory. I have nothing. I want nothing. Other then to be left alone.”

“Well be that as it may there might be one slight difference. Do you remember a young lass by the name of Kate O’Malley?”

The Irishman sat up straight in his chair. “Kate O’Malley? I have not heard of her in many the year. Last I had heard she had married the butcher’s son and had a couple of wee bairns clutched to her breast. What is Kate O’Malley to me Mr. Madden? I reckon you have the wrong of it.”

“That might have be so some time ago but she is here now. In New York. And she is asking for you. I just want to know if you want to see her. I can bring her to you. Or you to her. If that is what you want.”

“Why would you do that Mr. Madden? I admit I don’t want to be beholden to any man especially to buy a pig in a poke.”

“I simply want to show my friendship to you Mr. Deasy. We all need friends. Especially men such as ourselves. We need to know we have friends in a pinch. Because a pinch is sure to come.” Owney picked up his tea and took a small sip. “So would you like to be put in touch?”

Sean Deasy rubbed his eyes and thought for a moment. “Aye I think I might at that. I would like to see her once again. Is she well?”

“It is not for me to say. I think she might use some help. I have helped her in a small way. Mainly with money. But she needs more than that. Meet with her and decide what you will. I just wanted you to know. We can talk about our business once that is sorted. There is no hurry. I will be in touch.”

Owney stood up and nodded. He walked to the front of the bar. Feeney held out his camel hair coat and Owney slipped his arms in. He buttoned it and took his fedora and strode out into the night.


Sean Deasy watched as he left and then turned to his drink. He picked it up and looked through it. Placed it back on the bar. He had to think about what he was going to do.

10 comments:

Sixty Grit said...

Good one, although I would replace "proper place" with "proper angle" WRT his fedora.

Have you read Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter? Part of his Bob Lee Swagger series, this one is about Bob's father Earl. Owney Maddox is based on Owney Madden, who, unlike many in his line of work, died of old age.

Trooper York said...

Thanks Sixty I really respect your opinion. You are my target audience.

I have pretty much read everything that Stephen Hunter has written. His fiction it the tough no nonsense writing that I aspire to create in my own small way.

Trooper York said...

I have always thought that Owney Madden was the most fascinating gangster of the era. He was the bridge from the criminal gangs that were portrayed in the "Gangs of New York" and the Mafia. He was the last head of the Dead Rabbits who were the Irish gang on the West Side portrayed in the movie. He was involved in almost every part of the rackets at the time. He was a bootlegger. Extortionist. Had some in the Unions specifically the cab drivers and the stage hands which the Irish Mob controls to this day. He took over a bunch of speakeasies and clubs like the Cotton Club and the Stork Club. He ran boxing for a while with Primo Carnera and Max Baer until Frankie Carbo and the Mob pushed him out.

He was above all smart. He saw the writing on the wall. He was being targeted by the government. Being on parole for murder it would be easy for them to put him away to claim a win. When Dewey came in he saw the writing on the wall. Plus he saw that the Italians were going to take over. The only way to keep his patch was to go to war. It just wasn't worth it. He wasn't afraid. Just smart.

So he did what a lot of smart New Yorkers do. He went South.

Sound familar?

Sixty Grit said...

He was smart, moreover, he was clever. He ran both Max Baer an and Primo Cutomeato and made money no matter who won or lost. Brilliant.

What must it have been like to go to the Cotton Club and see Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, or the Nicholas Brothers - I can only imagine and I am thankful their performances were preserved on film. What a time and place.

Stephen Hunter writes the best gunfights I have ever read. Better than Tolstoy's Battle of Borodino, for example. I am now up to season 4 of Justified and it has devolved, in my opinion, into a soap opera. Housewives of Meth Holler. Not good. Improbable. It is so Californicated that it is just barely watchable, but watch it I will.

It is obvious that Elmore Leonard was not involved, what with being dead himself and all, but the writing just tanked. Mr. Leonard could write a gunfight, just sayin'.

I will say this, however, Boyd Crowder is still my favorite one of them hillfolk. That actor really brings the menace.

Trooper York said...

Boyd is great because Walter is a hell of an actor. He was great in the "Shield" as well.

I think the storyline with Mags Bennett and her three idiot sons was the best season of all.

Wait until you get the Jersey Guy pretending to be a Florida Cracker. That's when it really went off the rails.

Trooper York said...

Sometimes when we are used to the later work of some of our favorites we don't realize how bad their initial offerings really are in retrospect.

I recently reread the first novels of Robert B. Parker, Lawrence Block and John D. MacDonald and they were all sadly lacking. Nowhere near what they were like at the top of their game.

Trooper York said...

The later seasons are the work of the writers trying to ape Elmore Leanords style. Along with another critical error that happens so often with the works of the masters.

Elmore Leonard's son was involved in writing several of the episode. Almost always a recipe for disaster.

There are many examples of the sons of famous authors trying to carry on their fathers work after their Dad passes or is incapacitated.

William Butterworth is pushing out book after book under his father's WEB Griffin's name. He is keeping three or four series going.

Jeff Shaara is writing historical novels trading on the good feelings of his father's masterpiece "The Killer Angels" which is one of the best novels I have ever read. He collaborated on one novel with his dad Michael after he passed and then started writing new ones about other wars such as the Revolution and World War 1.

Even the two children of Louis L'amour tried to write a few stories after their Dad died to continue the money train. Eventually they turned to issuing his short stories from Pulp magazines in book form.

Sixty Grit said...

I read True at First Light - ostensibly by Hemingway, but probably written by his son Patrick. He was not as earnest as his father.

Be sure to tip your waitress...

Trooper York said...

I know what you mean.

Look at the Bible.

The old testament is a lot better then the New one that was written by the son. Just sayn'

Methadras said...

Oh that was good. The tension was well done. I was thinking that something would break it and violence would ensue, but one man just sold himself to another for the favor of meeting an old flame. Women. Pass the beer nuts.