Thursday, February 24, 2011

RAT PACK REVUE: "WHO'S GOT THE ACTION" ~ By Kevin Michaels of Harbinger*33

By ~ Kevin Michaels
“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” Skinny D’Amato said.
Carmine Petrocelli swirled the ice cubes around his glass before swallowing the rest of the Johnny Walker with a huge gulp.  He took a deep breath and leaned forward into the table, pushing the plates and silverware to the side as he dug in with his elbows.
“I can’t afford to take no ten thousand dollar hit,” he said.  “I don’t have that kind of money.”
Skinny sat back and flicked at the book of matches he had been twirling between his fingers.  “Seems to me, you didn’t have that money to start with.”
“But I’m out ten grand,” Carmine said.
“Somebody didn’t pay what you won in a poker game,” Skinny stated.  “It’s not like it came out of your pocket.”
Carmine shook his head.  “It’s the principle of the thing.”
The cigarette smoke from Skinny’s Kent curled towards the ceiling.  He sat across from Carmine, sipping a cup of coffee that never got cold or stayed empty too long.  The Cuban waiter hovering nearby kept a diligent eye on the table and made sure to be there for anything Skinny needed.  It was mid-afternoon at the 500 Club, hours before the first patrons would line up for the seven o’clock show, but the 500 was alive with activity.  Bartenders stacked glasses and filled ice bins, waiters smoothed wrinkles from table linens, and busboys carefully positioned matchbooks and arranged ash trays on each table. Sinatra was in town, finishing his eight night gig, and Skinny wanted everything as perfect for the last shows as it had been for the first. 
While the wait staff buzzed around his corner table Skinny sat tall and poised – a handsome man dressed impeccably in a navy suit, crisp white shirt, and dark red tie.  Skinny was loved and revered because he made sure every guest had a good time.  He was the owner of the Atlantic City club on Missouri Avenue where Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis got their start, and where Frank Sinatra sang every year for his good friend Skinny in those last hot weeks of August.
No matter how often Sinatra performed there, every two show-a-night performance was special.  Little details made a difference.  How the glasses were arranged.  The way each napkin was folded.  Which guest at the table got the check.  Skinny made sure he paid attention to the inconsequential tasks nobody else bothered with. 
But instead of tending to business he found himself face to face with Carmine – a short, thick, dark-haired, chain-smoking hood from South Philly who kept mopping the beads of sweat from his forehead with a dirty white handkerchief.  Sweat soaked through his jacket, even in the cool of the air-conditioned club, and every time Carmine lifted his arms he left a damp spot on the table linens that made Skinny frown.  Carmine had spent the better part of thirty minutes complaining about a late night poker game in the back of the club a few days earlier.  It had been a high stakes game with members of Sinatra’s Rat Pack, and Skinny got Carmine a seat at the table with Frank, Dean, and Joey Bishop.  He had called in a favor he hadn’t wanted to use and immediately regretted that decision.  The action had been hot all night but Bishop’s luck turned cold, and before long a bad streak left him short on cash with a significant debt owed Carmine.
Now Carmine was worried that with Sinatra finishing his shows, he and his Rat Pack cronies would leave town before Bishop settled the tab.
“They’re your friends,” Carmine said.
Skinny shrugged.  “Got a lot of friends.”
 “You get things done,” Carmine said.  “Take care of problems.  And this is a problem.”
Skinny took another sip of coffee as the ash on the smoldering Kent grew longer.  Friendship held a certain responsibility for Skinny; he was aware of the problems a guy like Carmine could create.   He stared impassively across the table.
“Besides, this could look bad if it gets out,” Carmine added.  “Look bad for both of us.”
Skinny’s brow arched.  “How’s it look bad for me?  I wasn’t there.”
Carmine shrugged again.  “Your club.  You put the game together.  And you got me a place at the game.”
A slight smile cracked Skinny’s expression and something changed in his stare.
“Let’s say I give you the keys to my Cadillac.  If somebody runs a red light and hits the car while you’re out driving, it ain’t got nothing to do with me, right?  You took the keys and knew the risk before you went driving,” he said.  “Same thing with this game.”
“But Bishop told me he was good for it,” Carmine said, pulling at his shirt collar and blinking away the smoke in his eyes.  “Now the guy says it ain’t his problem and he won’t pay.”
“That ain’t right,” Carmine added.  “Know what I mean, Skinny? Things ain’t done like that where I come from.”
Skinny glanced across the room to the bar where Tommy Duggan sat, silently watching their exchange.  He hung on every word but showed no emotion.  His expression never changed, and like the Cuban waiter, he sat poised and ready to provide anything Skinny needed, no matter what it was.
“OK,” Skinny said finally with a sideways glance at Tommy.  “I understand what we got to do.  None of us need these kinds of problems, right?”
Carmine nodded and stared down at the table.
“You go back to your hotel,” Skinny said.  “Somebody will be around later.”
There was a moment of hesitation as Carmine looked from Skinny to Tommy then back again.  But Skinny’s smile broadened as he stood and placed a comforting hand on Carmine’s shoulder.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said.  “One of my guys will bring you a package.  We’ll make everything right.”
Carmine jumped out of his chair and grabbed Skinny’s hands in his own, squeezing vigorously and pumping them enthusiastically.  “You don’t know how much I appreciate this,” he said.  “Thank you so much.”
Skinny slowly extracted his hand from Carmine’s grip, wiped it on a napkin, and glanced again at Tommy. 
“You just let everyone know we did right by you,” he told him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
THE TRAYMORE ~ "Wish you were here?"
The Traymore Hotel was one of the oldest hotels in Atlantic City, and for years the mammoth fifteen story structure on the boardwalk had been the most glamorous place to stay in town.  With its tan bricks and yellow tiled domes it was an architectural masterpiece that dwarfed all other hotels, and some people referred to it as the East Coast’s Taj Mahal.  But time had worn away that elegance and the years had taken a toll; the carpet along the hallway was worn and faded, the pain on the wood was nicked and chipped, and the wallpaper was beginning to peel.  None of that made much of an impression on Tommy Duggan as he stepped off the elevator on the tenth floor and made his way to Room 1007.
Carmine came to the door, wearing one of the Traymore’s monogrammed robes with a pair of slippers and his black over-the-calf socks showing underneath.  The white tee shirt peeking past the open lapels was yellowed and stained with sweat.
Tommy didn’t bother with a hello - instead he thrust a thick white envelope into Carmine’s hands.  Carmine peeked inside at the crisp one hundred dollar bills.  “It’s all there?”
“Maybe you want to count it,” Tommy said.  “On account of you’re thinking somebody’s trying to cheat you?”
Carmine shook his head.  “No.  I didn’t mean it like that,” he said hurriedly.  “I just can’t believe Skinny got the whole ten grand.”
Tommy stared a bullet hole into Carmine’s chest.  “He paid the whole ten grand,” he said after a moment.  “Be sure people know that.”
Carmine nodded.
“Got something else for you,” Tommy added, reaching inside his jacket pocket.
An expression resembling fear danced across Carmine’s face and he took a nervous step backwards before Tommy pulled out two tickets for that night’s ten o’clock show.
“Mr. D’Amato says its complements of the house,” Tommy said.  “For your troubles.”
“But I didn’t ask for this.”
Tommy smiled.  “Mr. D’Amato don’t want it getting around that his out of town guests ain’t being taken care of when they visit,” he said.  “He likes to treat his people right.”
Carmine beamed.  “I’m his people?”
Tommy shrugged and turned towards the elevator.  He went a couple of steps then turned back before Carmine could close the door.  “You ain’t got a date, I’ll be glad to send someone up,” he added.  “Know a cute young thing be happy to take in the show and show you a good time.”
Carmine smiled.  “Sure.  I’d like that.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It had been Sinatra’s best show of the week.  The next day the local gossip columnist from the Press would write that Sinatra had never sounded better – it was the kind of performance people would talk about for years.  Two hours of nonstop singing and crooning, with Carmine at a table right in front of the stage where everyone could see him.  He said hello to Sammy Davis.  Nodded to Dean Martin.  Even waved at Joey Bishop when he passed the table.  At one point during the show Sinatra leaned over while singing Why Can’t You Behave and smiled at him like they were old buddies.  His only regret was that when Sinatra finished, the staff hustled everyone out of the club before Carmine could get backstage.  A face to face hello with Sinatra would have had his date on her knees back at the Traymore and saved him the hundred he had to drop on drinks at Babette’s Bar afterwards.  But it didn’t matter to Carmine.  He was part of the in-crowd now.  Important.  A somebody. One of Skinny’s people.
He and the girl had just turned north on the boardwalk and Carmine was busy bragging about how important he was - he never saw the kid step out of the shadows of Convention Hall.  Hat pulled low, his face hidden, and jacket collar turned up suspiciously high, even in the cool of the late August night air.  By the time Carmine put it all together it was too late.
The last thing Carmine heard was the girl’s scream as the kid pressed the revolver against his temple and squeezed the trigger.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Skinny sat at the corner table, drinking his cup of coffee while another Kent burned in the ash tray.  Sinatra was gone but there was still another show that night – this time it was a group of five kids from Newark who were looking for a break.  He had caught their act earlier that summer at the Steel Pier and figured they deserved a shot.  He was wearing a dark, charcoal grey suit and soft blue tie, and Skinny adjusted his collar stays as he sat back comfortably in the chair.  Tommy Duggan sat across from him, a glass of Coca Cola in front of him and a napkin placed neatly on the table where he rested his elbows.
“Tossed his room while he was at the show,” Tommy said.  “Got most of it back except a couple of hundred he was carrying, and a couple more he threw around trying to impress people at Babette’s.”
“And the girl?”
“Told the cops she didn’t get a good look at the guy,” he said with a smile.  “Said it was dark and she was scared, and it all happened too fast.  Couldn’t recognize nobody in the mug shots they showed her.”
Skinny pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and peeled off a couple of hundreds.
“Make sure her memory doesn’t improve.”
Tommy nodded.
Skinny took a sip of coffee. 
“Always take care of things for my friends,” he said.  “Make sure she knows that.”

(C) 2011 ~ Author Kevin Michaels

Long an AT THE BIJOU regular who likes to change his POV from what row he sees all the action best, Kevin has just released his first novel LOST EXIT. Fittingly a Jersey Shore guy knows both tough and terrain of what he's tokkin' about here. His tone and edge shakes down a club scene in a subtle reality that puts his reader just about the next table away. I felt it. Even smelled a whiff of Skinny's Kent. He gives a whole new jump shot to angst in a full court press in his new novel. That's our Mr Michaels, who I'm honoured to reveal has been a behind-the-scenes (or sails) of a marketing mastermind with me aboard the upsailing of HARBINGER*33. Catch more KEVIN MICHAELS here at his edgy site, A COLD RUSH OF AIR, and doggone it - go buy this author-on-the-rise's book. It will play off your mind swell, as you're reading the first six Randisi RAT PACK MYSTERIES. Hey? Would I steer ya wrong? Besides, I'm layin' odds both Kevin and RJR 'know people'.
Kevin, how would you describe the feel of this first book you're so proud of?

LOST EXIT looks at a character haunted by his own poor choices and addictions in a harsh, brutal world where he has struggled to find himself. The story is about a last chance opportunity for Timmy to prove himself while battling his inner demons on and off the courts before piecing his life back together. Timely and intense, LOST EXIT blends the pain and angst of youth with the emotional struggle of characters coming to grips with their own identities.
Sounding real damn good! 
Similar to your interview query with RJR in our final act.


Saturday Matinees too.

Be there or be square.


Always great to see you here.

~ Absolutely*Kate,
and our swanky staff of renown


Sinatra: "If power doesn't mean that you have the opportunity to work with the people that you love , then you haven't really got any."

Opening Night: "RAT PACK REVUE TO YOU"

RAT PACK REVUE: "How Did All These People Get Into My Room?"  By Robert J Randisi, working the lounge before he hits the main room






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Paul D Brazill said...

Smashing! Zipped along!

Author said...

Great characters and dialogue, and a cracking tale, well told. Loved it!

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

That was so smooth and written very well. Geat work on this. The pics were nice as well.

Harry said...

Right on Kevin! Killer story!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed it thoroughly. Have already packed my bags for a stay at the Traymore. Threaded carpets and peeling paint - sounds like my kind of place.

KjM said...

Smooth, smooth, smooth - all the way to the “Make sure her memory doesn’t improve.”

I caught the change in Skinny's look once Carmine threatened him. Guess it doesn't pay to do that. And you don't get to do that twice.

Excellent tale, excellently told.

As another said, great dialogue.

Unknown said...

I could practically smell the salt air and taste the taffy ...

Anonymous said...

Kevin, from the first word to the last, this story is mesmerizing. Congrats on your book. I love the cover. It looks like it was taken from our beach a block away.

Kate Pilarcik ~ absolutely said...

TITLE alone in double-entendre dipping was gripping Kevin, but your smooth impeccable style (is that the Skinny in you?) was as impressively arranged as the early staff's presentation at the 500 Club.

Characters comin' in off the Boardwalk and gritty streets not named 'desire' really go down with a huge Johnny Walker gulp. SENSATIONAL swing to the RAT PACK REVUE here AT THE BIJOU. Wonderin' if we'll see Mr D'Amato come 'round again? I sure like the benediction of his prediliction.

I've grown accustomed to his style, his suave, his smooth swagger. And his smoke gets in my eyes.

~ Absolutely*Kate, thanking you for your talents ... always on the publishing rise (cue music now)

seana graham said...

Great feel of the era. I liked the way Carmine shifted from being the heavy to being the biggest loser. Front row seats to Sinatra? That Skinny--even his enemies he gives the biggest sendoff before he, well, sends them off...

Kevin Michaels said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I really appreciate them and I'm glad you enjoyed the story. This was one of those stories that was fun to write (especially since Skinny was the kind of larger than life hometown guy we all knew or knew about growing up).