Little Frank took a break after an hour of knocking me around because my face was making his knuckles sore. Poor guy. Workman's comp don't cover that kind of on-the-job injury.
My face, which must of looked like a squashed raspberry, didn't feel so hot, neither. But I didn't hold it against him none. He was just doing his job. I'd of done the same if it was me.
Little Frank was huffing like a forty-nine Nash with a bum carburetor. He ain't little, which is why they call him that. That's the gag, see? Sort of like why they call me Big Mike. Cause I ain't.
Anyway, Little Frank leaves me tied to this chair and he's taking a break, getting a beer, and I notice he's using the bottle to ice down the knuckles on his right hand. "Tough going, eh, Frankie?" I says.
"Shut up, tough guy," he says. "I ain't even started yet."
I was sucking wind, too. Taking a beating is work. Stressful, you know? It hurts, too, but I can take it. I've taken a whole lot worse.
"Tough getting old, ain't it, Frankie?" I ask him while I catch my breath. "I mean, when your fists go, what have you got left? It ain't like you're the brains of the outfit. What'll they need you for?" I wasn't trying to make him feel bad, honest. I was just making conversation, just talking. Course I like to talk, which is why Murray the Swede had Little Frank redesigning my face in the first place. Sometimes I don't know when to keep quiet.
"I said, shut up."
"It's too bad, Frankie, it really is. Guy like you, loyal, keeps his mouth shut and does his job for years, then what? The hands start giving you trouble, maybe arthritis or that carp-a-tunnel, and you're just an old wise guy who can't do nothin'."
"Shut up," he says again. "Why
ain't you out already, huh? How long you gonna make me do this?"
"I hope you don't mind me sayin', Frankie, that you seem a little depressed tonight," I says. "If it helps, I must say this beating you're giving me is one of the finest I've had. You haven't lost a thing. I mean that." I spit some blood onto the floor of the abandoned warehouse to show him I really did mean it.
"But like I was saying," I says, "Murray didn't get to be head of the outfit by trusting everybody. You ever wonder, Frankie, why there ain't no old fixers around here? It's cause Murray don't want guys around who got too old to work no more, and got no way to make a buck. Not big bucks, anyway. So maybe a deal to write a book or spill his guts to one of them news rags comes along, and it starts to look pretty good. A man in Murray's position, he's got no choice when you come right down to it."
"I said shut up!" Little Frank slammed down his beer bottle, and then he cracked all his knuckles at the same time. Warming up, I guess, like the way them joggers stretch their legs. It sounded like a string of them fireworks they throw at the New Year's parade in Chinatown.
"Yeah, you did," I said. "Like I was saying, Murray don't let guys like you get old. Did you ever wonder what happened to Joey Two Chins?"
Frankie just stared at me like I just offered him a winning Lotto ticket with no strings. Interested, but real suspicious.
"Joey Two Chins, he just disappeared, remember? Last fall, right before the Series."
"Yeah," Frankie said, still rubbing his right hand. "So what?"
"He didn't turn, Frankie," I says.
"That's what Murray said, but Joey didn't talk to nobody about nothin'."
I laughed a little, to get on his good side, you know? "You're right about that, Frankie. I wouldn't be here if I didn't talk so much, right? But not Joey, no way. He didn't talk to nobody and Murray still iced him. You know why?"
Frankie didn't say nothing, so I kept on. "Because, Frankie, he got old and he wanted to retire. That's all. He worked for the outfit, what-forty years? Since he was a kid. All he wants is a little place in Florida, where it's warm, you know? A little place in Florida where him and his old lady can take it easy, walk the beach, get a tan, maybe go to the track and bet the horses once in awhile. That's all he wants. And Murray takes him out. Just because he's scared Joey might start telling stories to some old feeb down in Florida, he's gotta whack him."
I got to hand it to Frankie, the wheels started
turning sooner than I thought. He wouldn't of listened if I pitched him
right off. He'd of just thought I was scared and trying to talk my way
out of a beating. But I waited, see, and waited until he'd worked me over
pretty good and he needed a rest anyway, so he let me keep talking until
he started thinking, even though he didn't want to. Little Frank was still
alive and working for Murray the Swede after all these years because he
tried real hard not to think. Frankie was real good at not thinking.
"Cause I was there when Murray ordered the hit."
Frankie chewed on that for a couple seconds. "How come I never heard nothin' about it?"
"Because, Frankie, Murray ain't stupid. Joey wasn't that much older than you," I says. "What are you gonna think when you find out the retirement gift from Murray is a smile that goes from ear to ear?"
Now the gears in Frankie's head are grinding so hard I swear I can smell the oil burning. The goon was starting to put two and two together, so I let him have the rest of the pitch.
"Hey, Frankie, how'd you like some guaranteed job security?"
"Job security, Frankie. It means not having to worry your boss is gonna have you hit before you can spend that money you got stashed away under the insulation in the crawl space of your attic."
He jumped like I stuck him with a red-hot poker. "What money?"
"The money from the Konechny deal that nobody knew where it was. You knew where it was, and you kept it. Pretty ballsy of you, and pretty slick to pull it off."
"How'd you know about that?"
"I know lots of things, Frankie," I said. I sat up a little straighter in the wobbly wooden chair. "Course, Murray wouldn't believe me if I told him. Which I won't. I'm done with Murray. You and me, Frankie, I'm talking a whole new operation here. I need somebody with your experience to set up the muscle."
"A new operation, buddy boy, starting with you and me. I've got a new boss backing me up, a serious player, somebody who can push Murray out of the way like he was small time. Which he is."
Frankie looked hurt I'd talk that way about his boss for the last twenty years. "What are you talkin'? Murray's got the whole south side."
I leaned forward to try and close the deal. "We're gonna have the whole city, Frankie. Less than two years, watch and see. Come in with us and you can stay as long as you want, quit whenever you want. The boss will make it worth your while, which is more than Murray will do for you. Just ask Joey Two Chins."
The big gorilla looked confused. That wasn't surprising, because he probably hadn't had to think about anything tougher than what kind of pasta to have for lunch in twenty years. I poured it on.
"Hey, Frankie, about that hand-the boss'll get that taken care of for you, too," I said. "Only the best, that's what he says. Nothing's too good for his boys, and he means it. Wouldn't that be good, Frankie? No more pain in those hands of yours, and no more pain in your gut when you drink your wine at night." Another surprised look. I laughed. "Yeah, I know about that, too. The boss is good-knows everything about everybody. Makes taking over like taking candy from babies. In fact," I says, leaning forward, "the only reason you even got me here tonight was so I could offer you this deal. One time offer, Frankie, your chance at the big time."
Little Frank's brain was working out the problem on the front of his face, like his thoughts wouldn't get moved around inside his head unless his lips and eyebrows was moving, too. He frowned so hard he could of cracked a peanut with the ridges on his forehead.
Finally, he cracked his knuckles again and said, "Screw you. You're full of it." He started walking back over to pick up where he left off.
Well, you can't say I didn't try.
"That's too bad, Frankie," I says. "I'm really sorry to hear that. We coulda made a great team."
"Yeah, yeah," he said. "Shut up."
"Goodbye, Frank," I said, standing up.
"Wha?" He'd secured his ropes tightly, but rope cannot hold me.
"You passed up a great opportunity. I'm sorry you won't be part of the organization." The look of horror on Frankie's face revealed that he wasn't as stupid as he tried to appear. Freed from the stifling, claustrophobic constraints of the undersized shell that was Big Mike McGlone, I was able to stretch out to my true size-which was considerably larger than Little Frank. The smaller man slumped in the chair, cold, lifeless, and no longer needed. Police would have concluded that his death was due to the beating he'd received, but his body would never be found.
"The funny thing, Frank," I said, idly examining the razor-sharp nails on my left hand, "is that you've been working for us all along. And you never even knew it."
He screamed as he backed away. An entertainingly
high-pitched sound, I thought, coming from a man who stood six foot four
and weighed over two hundred and sixty pounds. I laughed. He would be
much more enjoyable to use than the little one.