He kept looking at his watch as he drove along Coney Island Ave. Why was he so anxious when he had driven this route every Saturday morning since late March? He was just taking his youngest son to the kid’s Pony League baseball game, so why nervous now? He knew why, the moment he told those two detectives last week. Everything seemed so surreal now. It was a Sunday morning, last Sunday, that they pushed into the phone booth at Wolf’s Luncheonette, grabbed him and hurried him out. Old man Wolf and his wife, and a few Sunday morning regulars just looked on, aghast. In the back of the unmarked sedan the first detective laid it all out for him. ” Ok Al, we can do this two ways. The first way is we keep riding to the 61st ( Precinct) and book ya . The second way, and the choice is yours Al, we ‘ Work something out’. You get my drift don’t you Al?” He got it… in spades. He asked them how much were they looking for. The answer came back like someone hit him with a ton of bricks. ” Guys, I can’t afford that much. I’m lucky to make that for myself in maybe a month… or even two. Come on guys, please be a little understanding. Please!” The other detective laughed. ” Ok Al, look, we don’t want you to go broke paying us off. We’ll be nice and take half of that and let you go on your way. Ok?” He knew that he had no choice after that. He would pay them the $600 and avoid the arrest. His record to this point was strictly virgin. He agreed. ” Guys, just give me a week or so to get it together.” They said no problem. Then, his wheels started spinning. What if this was all part of a sting, and he was being set up for bribing cops? Then he would be facing serious jail time. It would ruin his job at the docks, and destroy his family. HIs mother, who lived with them, would go ballistic, along with his wife. ” No problem, I just want to make the deal somewhere in a public place, for my own protection guys.” They agreed and it was set up for the following Saturday, at his son’s baseball game.
While his son was warming up with the other kids, he sat there… pondering. How did it all come to this, the bookmaking and now the bulls? He knew why, and hoped perhaps his wife would understand, because he had to tell her. After all, it was she who first realized that their home phone was being tapped. She warned him to not make or take such calls from home. She got him to have to go around the corner for his customers. Too late anyway. They nailed him. He had to tell her, but never his mother. So, he sat there, waiting for the bulls to show up and get their ‘ pound of flesh’. HIs mind wandered to when he first began taking action. It started out four or five years earlier when Louie retired and gave him, Al, his pad. His whole pad, which encompassed the 17th Street pier. Why, even the old man, his father in law, the guy who found him his job as a checker fourteen years ago, he was one of his best customers. He remembered how the old man introduced him to Louie maybe ten years ago. Louie needed a runner and bookkeeper to help him, and he needed extra income. With two young kids and having no credit he needed more coming in each week. Now, the credit thing was another ‘ tough break’ for him. Before he got the job as a checker he was doing great in the used car business. He had a partner, Enos, a guy he met while they worked together at the Navy Yard during the war. They both were ambitious with Enos being a bit too ambitious. When Enos borrowed money from their bank and forged his name as a co-signer, the shit hit the fan when Enos couldn’t pay. They came after him and his lawyer made him file bankruptcy. It would take years before that noose would be lifted. The used car lot was a bust and his father in law found him this job.
Al just seemed to live his whole life under dark clouds. It started when he was not yet in his teens. He came down with periodontal disease and lost all his teeth. By the early 1930s he was accepted into Brooklyn College, where you needed top grades to get in. Within a year the depression got deeper and he had to drop out and find work. It was only the three of them, and they all needed to work. HIs dad was a machinist and his mom found a factory job. Ditto for him. A few years later, after living on banana and broccoli rabe sandwiches at times, his dad got arrested for being in one of the many strikes that occurred in NYC those days. His mom and him had to practically beg around the neighborhood to raise the bail money. His dad was then told that he would never work in that trade again… never! By 1940 a proud and despondent man, unable to even get on ‘ Relief ‘ ( forerunner to welfare) with no work opportunities, blew his brains out in their bathtub. He was kind enough to make sure the mess stayed in the tub.
As he sat watching his boy play and waiting for the bulls, he recalled when the infamous Gallo brothers paid him a visit at the 17th Street Receiving Office. Louie had just given him that wonderful gift to now earn some good money, and these vultures showed up. Everybody knew ‘ Crazy Joe Gallo’ and his older brother Larry. These guys were killers who were under the thumb of the Profaci Family, one of the Five Families in La Cosa Nostra. Joe Profaci was the Don ( the Godfather film was modeled after him) and the Gallos were his ‘ button men’ . This afternoon they were there on their own, trying to carve a little piece of the gambling pie for themselves without the ‘ Old Man’s ‘ approval. ” Al, look, we don’t want to take over things from you. We heard Louie retired and good for you Al. All we want is to protect you Al, that’s all.” He told them to just take his book and he would fade out of the picture. ” No, Al, you can keep things as they are. Just from now on we come by regular to make sure nobody bothers you, that’s all. Listen, go home, sleep on it and we’ll come by tomorrow to work it all out. ” They then left. He knew what that meant. These sharks would own him from now on. He would be working with two more partners, and they could have the last word…always! He went home and called his father-in law up. The old man was friendly with Profaci’s top lieutenant for years. Maybe he could do something. The next afternoon, like clockwork, the two Gallos showed up. ” Hey Al, why didn’t you tell us you knew the Don?. Hey, just forget we were even here Al.”
Now, not even a few years later, those dark clouds were reappearing. The two bulls showed up wearing the usual long, heavy coats that detectives wore. They sat on each side of him and watched the game for maybe thirty minutes. Then they got up and said their goodbyes. ” You don’t have to worry anymore Al, we got your back from now on. No one’s gonna bother you.” He knew what that meant. He was actually better off having Joe Profaci as a friend than these two. When he got home he told his wife that it was over. No more bookmaking for him. The baseball games from now on would be just that.