JUNE 8, 1946
The eighth floor of the Charlesgate Hotel was invisible. The hotel’s architect, J. Pickering Putnam, had designed it that way for reasons known only to him. It was hardly the only quirk of the Gothic Revival-style building, which opened for business in 1891, flourished in the early 20th century, and was now in steep decline. There were rumors, of course. Putnam belonged to a Satanic cult. The hotel was financed with Mafia money. The foundation was ingrained with rare metals specifically chosen to attract paranormal activity.
Dave T neither knew nor cared whether any of that was true. But he did know the eighth floor couldn’t be seen from outside the building. And he knew that rooms were cheap now that the Charlesgate had fallen on hard times. Once it had been the jewel of the Back Bay, attracting Rockefellers and heads of state. Now Jimmy Dryden from Somerville ran whores out of the sixth floor, splitting the hourly rates with the house. The grapevine had it that the hotel was about to be sold to one of the local universities as residential space, but Dave T would worry about that when the time came. The only thing that mattered now was that the Charlesgate was the perfect place for his weekly poker game: secluded, private, overlooking Kenmore Square and Fenway Park beyond. The out-of-towners got a kick out of seeing the lights of Fenway during the summer months, and the Red Sox were having a good year. A pennant kind of year.
The poker game typically attracted a mix of regulars and out-of-towners, and that was the case tonight. Dave T would deal all night and take the house cut when they shut the lights, but he never gambled anymore. He sat at the head of an ornate oak banquet table dating back to the Charlesgate’s glory days. Two guys from Marko’s crew had muscled it up the back stairway, eight stories from the basement, a couple years back. It wouldn’t fit in the elevator, so Dave T slipped them twenty bucks each and a standing invitation to sit in on the game if they’d hump it all the way to the top. The table could seat eight easily, ten in a pinch. Tonight it was ten. A radio perched on the kitchen counter crackled with the Sox broadcast, Jim Britt and Tom Hussey on the call.
"Stud," Dave T said, for no good reason. Five-card stud was the only game ever dealt on the eighth floor of the Charlesgate. It was the only game ten people could play at once. He sent the cards around and the bullshitting soon followed.
"Anyone heard from our friend down Middleboro?"
"I were you, I wouldn’t be expecting no Christmas card."
"What I heard, he was messing around with one of the Casey girls. Way I hear it, Old Man Casey finds out, sends a couple of the cousins from Pawtucket up to Middleboro there. They find our friend in his garage, working on his Packard. One of the cousins kicks out the jack and down comes the Packard, two tons of steel. End of the line for our friend. Way I hear it, anyway."
"First of all, how is he our friend? He’s our friend, he’s not your friend."
"Ladies," said Dave T. "Cards are up. Jack high bets."
Men tossed chips into the center of the table. Quinlan’s chair creaked as he shifted, his breathing labored as always. Quinlan owned a liquor store in South Boston—or rather, the store’s liquor license was in his name. Everyone knew who really owned it. It was Quinlan who had first asked about the man from Middleboro, and it was clear he already regretted it. "I didn’t mean it that way," he said. "Just asking."
"Knock it off, ladies," Dave T said. "You know the rules. Friendly game, no shop talk." That was the longstanding policy. In truth, Dave T didn’t mind a little gossip. As long as he kept up the pretense that house rules forbade shop talk, the players felt more relaxed and, paradoxically, more willing to shoot the shit and let slip the occasional valuable nugget of information. Dave T dealt in information. Know everything, say nothing. Nobody at the table knew his last name. No one could say for sure whether he was Irish, Italian, or the King of Sweden. But they all trusted him. He was the dealer.
"Cards around and pair of nines bets."
"Check? Check my pants, I got somethin’ for ya there." Dryden tossed two white chips into the pot.
"Not what I heard," said Hugh Mullen, doubling Dryden’s bet.
"Come on, are we playing cards or are we playing—"
A shotgun blast put an end to the talk. Men dropped their cards and reached for their guns.
"Hands on the fucking table!"
The first man through the door held a still-smoking shotgun. He’d blown out the lock and the whole knob assembly with it. Two men followed him into the room, one holding a .38 pistol in each hand, the other carrying a briefcase. All three faces were hidden by potato sacks with eyeholes cut into them.
"I want to count twenty hands on the table," said the man holding the two guns. "I count less than twenty hands, my friend here shoots someone in the head. We don’t care who."
Dave T made a show of placing both palms flat on the table. "You jokers know whose game you’re robbing?"
"That’s why we’re here. Now this can go real smooth. My friend with the briefcase will just empty the bank, and then we’ll hit the road."
"No bank here, fellas. This is just a friendly game. Sorry you wasted your time, but if you’ll see yourselves out..."
The man with the briefcase headed straight for the liquor cabinet under the window facing Kenmore Square. "Except we already know where the fuckin’ bank is. Just like we knew where to find this game. Food for thought, huh?"
He slid open the cabinet door, tossed aside a few bottles of scotch, and pulled out a cash register drawer. "Ain’t this convenient. Divvied up by tens and twenties and everything."
He set down the briefcase, popped it open, and filled it with the contents of the cash drawer. The men with guns kept them trained on the poker players. The only sound now came from the radio: top of the ninth, two out.
"Good, you guys been listening to the game. So you know it was twelve nothin’ in the third inning. Pesky got three hits, Teddy scored four runs, and this thing is just about over. When it ends, there’s gonna be at least twenty thousand happy Red Sox fans pouring into Kenmore Square. Even figurin’ some people left early, such a pounding they put on Detroit."
From the radio: "...and Bloodworth pops up to short, and this should do it. Pesky gloves it and the Red Sox win this one 15−4. Never in doubt."
"There ya go," the man with the briefcase said, making his way to the exit. "In about ninety seconds, my friends and I are gonna melt into that crowd and you ain’t never gonna see us again. But just to make sure nobody gets any smart ideas..."
He gestured to his colleague who was holding the shotgun. The man took two steps toward Dave T and lowered his weapon six inches from the dealer’s nose. "Get up."
"Fellas, you got your money."
"Get up!" He popped Dave T in the nose with the business end of his weapon, drawing blood. Dave T never flinched, but he stood as instructed.
"You fellas are writing a real bad ending for yourselves here. Should have just stayed home and enjoyed the ballgame."
"Tomorrow maybe. Come on, let’s go." The man with the shotgun nudged Dave T toward the door. The one with the briefcase was already out in the hall. Once Dave T cleared the doorway, the third robber stayed a moment longer, watching men tense up, itching to take their hands off the table. "Do yourselves a favor," he said, keeping his pistols aimed squarely at the group. "Just stay here and listen to the postgame show. There’s always another card game."
He backed out the door, kicking it shut behind him. It swung back open immediately, its broken knob assembly bouncing off the doorjamb. By then two of the Mullen boys were on their feet, guns drawn, making for the hallway. About ten paces away, the robber with the shotgun stood with his weapon at Dave T’s head as his friends stepped into the elevator.
"Take a powder, fellas," Dave T said. "You can see this man is serious. What say we just let ’em be on their way."
"Well said." The robber pushed him to the floor and hopped aboard the elevator. Dave T could see the shotgun still trained on him until the door closed. A bell sounded and the elevator started down.
"Call Pete down at the front desk and tell him to shoot those sonsabitches before they make the exit!" Dave T scrambled to his feet and started down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Fast as he could go, it was still eight stories and he was no match for the elevator. By the time he got to the lobby, the front desk was deserted. Dave T pushed through the front door and into the mild June night.
Out on Charlesgate East, as predicted, happy Red Sox fans could be seen in every direction. Short of breath, Dave T took a seat on the front steps. A minute or two passed before Pete emerged from the darkness of the park across the street. He was short of breath, too.
"Lost ’em," he said. "By the time I got the call, they were already out the door. If they jumped on the train at Kenmore, they could be on their way to anywhere."
"That was their plan," said Dave T. "Don’t sweat it."
"I never seen them come in. They couldn’t have come in the front door. I never took my eyes off it, I swear!"
"I believe you. Check around the ground floor. I bet you find an open window. Those boys had help."
"You know who they were?"
"Not yet. This time tomorrow, next day at the latest, I’ll know."
"Because anyone dumb enough to take down my card game is dumb enough to yap about it. And they’ll be yapping, tonight, tomorrow night. And then I’ll know."
By now Dryden and the Mullens had joined them on the front steps of the Charlesgate. Dave T stood up and wiped his bloody nose on his sleeve.
"How ’bout them Sox?"
Copyright © 2018 by Scott Von Doviak.