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The Lonesome Death of Crow Fallon
By Zack Budryk
My name is Paul Fallon. I am thirty-eight years old, I live on the West Side of Manhattan, and I am going to die today.
I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what you’re wondering. Nor do I have any kind of terminal disease. I simply woke up this morning and knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would not outlast the day.
You ever see that movie The Roaring Twenties? It was a gangster film, one of the Cagney-Bogart team-ups. At the end, Cagney gets shot on the steps of City Hall, and a cop asks his girlfriend who he was, and she just says, “He used to be a big shot.” That’s me. I used to be a big shot. I was never a boss or anything; I’m not good with administrative shit. But over the years, I was really good at whacking people or intimidating them to the point that whacking them wasn’t necessary.
Everyone around here calls me Crow Fallon, since I was about seventeen. Once people started calling me Crow, a black guy who ran numbers down on Belmont Avenue who was called Crow got pissed; guy drove up to our headquarters on 43rd Street and told me it was his, I couldn’t use it. We sat down and talked for a little while, and he ended up giving me permission to use the name, provided I always referred to myself as “Crow Fallon," never just “Crow." The two of us have been friends ever since. That still makes me laugh. A couple of gangsters, sitting down to hash out copyright.
Crow-from-Belmont was curious what a white boy wanted to call himself “Crow” for in the first place, and I’m sure lots of other people had the same question. Short answer: it’s because of my hair, which is so jet-black that everyone assumes it’s a dye-job. My ancestors in Ireland always went gray when they were a hell of a lot younger than I am now (poverty, drunkenness and terrorism will age you pretty fast), so I was always kind of proud that not only did I never go gray, I derived my handle from never going gray.
As I comb this mane of mine, I think about how I’ll spend my day. I decide to pull a Godfather; today, I settle all family business. Well, not “family," really. But regardless, I make my peace with the many, many people whose shit list I’m on. Of course, some of them will probably shoot me on sight. But hey, it’s gonna happen at some point today. No sense putting it off. I decide that for my hokey, cliché day I oughtta dress in a hokey, cliché manner; I look in my closet and see my suit; it’s a beautiful thing, black silk, double-breasted. It still fits perfectly, even though I got it back when I was working as a bagman at eighteen. I figured this was the way an up-and-coming gangster should dress, so it was what I got on my first payday. This turned out to be my own dumbfuckery, and I ate microwave burritos for all three meals the next few weeks. Lesson learned: Even a gangster needs to make a paycheck last.
I find a plain white dress shirt and a green silk tie to go with the suit. Finally, I pull a faux-emerald shamrock pin from my dresser and stick it in the lapel. That’s it, Crow. Dressed to kill, or die. I stroll out of my house, ready to meet the world. A wino stares at me. I stare back. I try to raise an eyebrow, and it doesn’t work.
“Something funny?” I ask him.
“Y’look like Gotti fucked a leprechaun,” this witty gentleman comments.
I shrug. “Youse mooks is always after my Lucky Charms.” I keep walking. Master prioritizer that I am, I have made a list of three people to make things right with, on a battle-scarred notepad that is filled with stick figures of women with huge tits from when I left it unattended in a bar. First on my list (other than Miss Top-Heavy New York ’14) is Benny Connelly. I shiver slightly. Again with the priorities, eh, Crow? First is the worst, second is the best…
Benny Connelly, his name notwithstanding, is actually Italian. This is less unusual among New York wiseguys than you’d think; Paul Kelly and Frank Costello were both Italians, too. Of course, they changed their names because they grew up when no one, anywhere, would give an Italian a job, so they changed their names to sound Irish (who, a couple decades before that, couldn’t get a job). Benny Connelly, on the other hand…Benny was born Benito Connazio on the Lower East Side in 1934. Once the war started, he got his ass kicked several times before deciding having “Benito” for a first name and “Nazi” in your last name wasn’t a great plan. He’d been Benny Connelly ever since. And ever since 1994, I’d been avoiding him like the plague.
What happened was this: there was a flatbed being driven through the Irish mob’s turf, supposedly carrying car parts but actually carrying several shopping bags of illegal guns to be sold in the streets. The driver was a Greek guy named Kenny Pelecanos; he was new in town, and no one knew him too well. Naturally, given the choice between buying something and taking it, we were leaning towards the latter, so we lay in wait for him in an alley as he entered Hell’s Kitchen.
Something you should know: back then, I was really fucking stupid. It was this fucking stupidity that led me to try to rush the hijack by running over to the truck and pistol-whipping the guy in the face. This was shitty planning, I’ll be the first to admit. What even I didn’t see coming was him tumbling out the door I had opened, and a drunk driver turning the corner and marrying the top of the driver’s head to the pavement. We were pretty freaked out by that, but our first order of business was getting away with the truck and its cargo, which we did.
Two days later, we received some bad news: Benny Connelly had had his eye on the same truck, and not only that, he had sent one of his soldiers to boost it an hour before we had. The driver had called to report his success, and had now gone missing, which upset Benny quite a bit. It also upset us, since Benny had a reputation for taking accidents personally, as well as giving his detractors massive amounts of painkillers and letting them watch their own dismemberment. To this day I don’t know if he ever found out it was us, that is, me. Several times since then, I’ve been tempted to assume he knows and apologize, but I’m always scared out of it by the thought that he had no idea, and once I come forth I’m good and fucked. But today, with my newfound tolerance of my own mortality, I stride (well, “creep” is probably more appropriate) to the door of the Belissima, the center of Benny’s prostitution, blow and gambling business.
I knock on the door and wait for the doorman’s slot to open. I feel like I’m in “The Wizard of Oz," except I just came from the Emerald City. The panel slides open and pair of eyes look at me.
“Yeah?” It’s the voice of a guy who considers having to talk to anyone about anything to be a massive pain in the balls.
“Yeah, he’s here. Will he see you, is what you mean.”
“Yeah, it is. Will he?”
“On who the fuck you are.”
“Crow Fallon, from the Westies. He’ll remember me.”
“We’ll see.” He slides the slot shut. I hear his feet tramping towards the back. After a few minutes, he opens the door. He looks pissed that I had the nerve to make him, a doorman, open a door.
Benny sits at the back. Benny is of average build and height, and looks his age, but wears it well, if that makes sense. The only unfortunate thing about him is his face. Benny’s mother believed in mass exposure as a remedy for diseases, so when Benny’s little sister got chicken px, it was into bed with her he and his three brothers went, and as though the whole name situation wasn’t bad enough luck, Benny and no one else ended up with shingles. Seventy years later the poor bastard’s face still looked like someone should be landing on it and planting a flag. The Reluctant Doorman pats me down and signals my cleanness to Benny.
“Crow Fallon?” Benny speaks out of the blue. “Come here, you mick motherfucker.” I approach him and he rises from his seat and embraces me. “Ain’t seen you in a dog’s age, Crow,” he says. “I never see any of you potato-eaters anymore. I miss youse.”
I decide to cut to the chase. “Listen, Benny, I have something I need to tell you. I just feel like you have the right to know. Do you remember when Little Bill Valachi got hit by that car in ’94?”
The expression on his face doesn’t make me feel optimistic. “Fuckin’ A, I remember it. Never found the bastards did it, either.”
I go for the kill. “Benny, I did that. It was an accident, I swear on my mother. We thought he was Pelecanos. I wish to God I could take it back, and I hope you’ll forgive me.”
There’s a brief pause, in which I mentally ask God for as little Purgatory as possible. Then Benny shrugs.
“Yeah, sure. No worries.”
I blink. “You’re serious?”
He takes a drag off his Chesterfield. “What, you thought I was pissed over Bill?” He lowers the cigarette. “I was pissed about losing the hardware, Crow. I was actually gonna whack Bill as soon as he got back.”
This is getting confusing. “I thought you guys were pals!” I say, a little shriller than I mean. The possibility of not getting killed right here is making my voice crack.
He shakes his head and looks disgusted. “Little Bill Valachi, I’ll have you know, was fucking Mrs. Connelly more often than I was. He was on his way to regret that when youse guys finished the job for me.”
This is news to me. Of course, part of all this Cosa Nostra honor code shit is, you never sleep with another wiseguy’s wife. If you do, and the husband is pissed enough, whatever happens happens. I guess the relief shows in my face, because Benny says “Jesus, Crow, have you been sweating that all these years? Shit, losing the guns pissed me off, but hey…” He takes another drag. “I’ve got guns.”
I decide to leave this joint before my relief combined with my confusion makes me do anything dumb. I stand up. “Thank you for your audience, Mr. Connelly.”
“Anytime, Crow. Don’t be a stranger, huh?”
I walk out, crossing a name off the list. Next up, I have a little more of a walk. Sing Sing is a little further out of the way.
Mikey Corrigan is one of the most heavily-guarded prisoners in the joint, but the guard asks me very few questions. I guess he figures I can’t be an associate, since we Irish hoodlums don’t dress this nice.
Corrigan was the boss of bosses in the Irish underworld when I first started doing work for them. In the late eighties, Corrigan looked exactly like Mickey Rourke does now. He was all red hair, prison tattoos and razor scars, and the extent of his fashion sense was occasionally wearing a collared shirt under his leather jacket. Corrigan’s crew, myself included, kept to themselves, but at one point they did some work for the Italians. Flash forward a few years, two big-time Mafia bosses are under indictment, and, code of silence be damned, they name so many names so fast they have to catch their breaths. Mikey Corrigan was one of those names, and he was just the kind of cold-blooded SOB the NYPD needed to bust to make this look good. Corrigan got twenty-five to life, but before embarking he left detailed instructions that his son Vincent be given the keys to the kingdom. Me and a few others in the crew decided that, naturally, we couldn’t let this happen.
Vincent was, quite simply, a fuckup. He alternated between being a drunk and a cokehead, depending on what time of year it was, and, worst of all for someone in his position, was an irredeemable showoff. Just to pick an example, Vincent got his friends to start calling him Big Vince Corrigan in bars whenever there were pretty girls around; since Vincent was about five foot five, he reasoned that all the girls would assume he got the name because he was hung like a horse. Long story short, he wasn’t and they didn’t.
Anyway, me and Colin Doyle, a buddy of mine, forged a note from Mikey transferring Vince to a crew in Philadelphia and out of our hair. I had no interest in leadership, so Colin became the new boss. That is, until Mikey heard what we had done, and, after a prison tantrum with several particularly gruesome casualties, pulled some strings to get Colin arrested, convicted and sent to the same cellblock. His first night, after the lights went out, Colin made the acquaintance of Big Mikey Corrigan. The doctors patched him up, but he was still left with white hair and a permanent stutter. And here I was, visiting the psycho.
Corrigan’s head is shaved now; if he’s trying to look more like a serial killer, it’s a great look for him. Ditto to the elaborately-worked Celtic cross going from the top of the back of his skull to the base of his neck. He sits down and gives me a look that said “Being near me is justification enough to stab you in the face.” I seem to remember him always looking that, so that doesn’t really worry me.
“I know you?” he finally growls. I gulp. Not every greeting can be as genial as Benny Connelly’s.
“Yeah, you do. I’m Crow Fallon. I used to be your button man, back in the Kitchen.”
He gives me a crooked smile. “Right, now I remember. Doyle mentions you all the time. When he’s not screaming for me to get off him.”
My blood freezes. There’s a guard behind us, but something tells me if and when Corrigan decides he’s going to kill me, said guard will be considered a brief annoyance at the very most. The Mikey Corrigan I know probably files his nails for just such occasions.
He keeps going. “Loosen the fuck up, Fallon. I’m not gonna do anything to you. I’ve got Doyle for that. Doyle’s an example to all these fuckers… I’m the king of the castle.” He leans in and hisses. “And I really hope he’s an example to you too. Because if you fuck around with what’s mine any more, I swear to Christ, I’ll dig my way out of here with a spoon and a hairpin just to cut your throat. We clear?”
“Good. Fuck off, Judas.”
I get up and walk out of the visiting center, trying to look over my shoulder without appearing to be. I cross Mikey off the list as I take the ferry back to shore. I have only one person left. And that one I can do from right here. I sit down on a bench.
I take out my cell phone and dial Rose’s number, hoping to God she’s home, simply because I’ll probably break down if I have to leave a message. Her phone rings three times and midway through the fourth she picks up.
I sit there and wish this could be it, that I could just hear her voice before she knows it’s me, before she remembers she hates me, before she remembers the affairs and broken promises and betrayal and little tiny bits of passive-aggressive bullshit seeping through every into every little moment of seeming calm. I also wish I had a million fucking dollars and wasn’t about to die, so I say “Hi, Rose.”
Pause. “Who’s speaking?”
“It’s Crow. Please, don’t hang up, Rose.”
She pauses again, but doesn’t hang up. “Paul Fallon. What’d you, fuck all your contacts and have to start from the beginning?”
“Rose, you have every right to still be angry at me.”
“Wow, you’re generous. I want your permission I’ll ask for it.”
“Rose, just listen to me for a second, okay?”
“Oh, sure, I’ll listen. Since you listened to a goddamn thing I ever said.”
“ROSE.” Raising my voice sends exactly the wrong message, but it stops her for a second. I take a deep breath. “Rose, we don’t deserve each other. You always deserved a guy who was dependable, a guy who wouldn’t get drunk, wouldn’t fuck around, didn’t have a shady job. You deserved someone who was everything to you that you were to me. But after all that shit I just mentioned, you were still willing to stick with me. I was the one who left, if you remember.” I take a breath. “And I feel like my time’s running out, Rose, and that’s why I want you to know, whatever it was about me, that kept you from leaving me, that’s made my life worth something. Or maybe it was all you, in which case, knowing you is what made my life worth something. Rose, I love you. I love you.”
I hear the longest pause yet. Finally, she speaks again, her voice trembling.
“I love you too, Paul.” She sighs. “Will I see you sometime?”
“No.” I hang up.
It’s getting dark when I finally get back to my house. As I step in, I suddenly feel really hot and really tired. As I strip off my goddamn Gotti-leprechaun suit and toss it on my bed, I step into the shower and turn it on. I’ve got one of those delightful pieces of shit that is either ball-freezingly cold or volcanically hot, unless you turn it the precise amount of quarter inches to get it just right. I grab the soap off the ledge beneath the showerhead from next to my father’s old straight razor that I still keep in here for some reason.
As I shampoo my hair, I realize: I’m about to go to bed, and I haven’t died yet. I pause. Am I fucking with the space-time continuum? Can that be good? I heard this story about a farmer who sees Death, and he goes to his brother to ask to borrow his horse, so he can escape to the city. The brother says sure, go ahead. Later on, the brother sees Death, walks up to him says, Hey, Death, why are you threatening my brother? Death says, I never threatened your brother. I was just surprised to see him because we’ve got an appointment tonight in the city.
As I ponder this, I move to replace the soap on the ledge, but it’s too slippery; as I move to keep it from sliding off, my hand hits the catch on the razor, knocking both it and the soap to the floor of the shower. The razor lands with the blade still out. I reach for it, and my heel collides with goddamn soap, and down I go.
#Unreal #Gangsters #NYC #NewYork #Manhattan #Violence #Italians #Irish #CrimeFiction #CreativeWriting #ShortStory
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