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Authors: Mike Dennis

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Setup on Front Street

BOOK: Setup on Front Street
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SETUP
 
ON

FRONT
 
STREET

 
 
 
 

by

MIKE
DENNIS

 
 
 

THE
 
KEY
 
WEST
 
NOCTURNES
 
SERIES

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either
products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without
permission in writing from Mike Dennis.

 

Published
by Mike Dennis

 

Copyright
2011 by Mike Dennis

 

Edited by Harry Dewulf

 

Cover designed by Jeroen ten Berge

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

For Vince...

I wish you had lived to see this.

ONE
 

March, 1991

 

I
got back to Key West on the day Aldo Ray died.

This kid sitting next to me on the bus had
one of those old transistor radios, and the news crackled out of it somewhere
south of Miami. The big C got him, it said.

Ray was one of my favorite Hollywood tough
guys. Like myself, he was powerfully built, with a harsh, scratchy voice,
cutting a bearish figure on the big screen. But he had a well-hidden,
squishy-soft center, which usually meant big trouble for the characters he
portrayed.

As the Greyhound made its way down the Keys
that morning, I gazed out at the hot, lazy island hamlets, thinking about Ray
and about what I had to do.

And there could be no room for squishiness.

 

≈≈≈

 

We lumbered into the downtown Key West terminal. I stepped off
the air-cooled bus into the steamy embrace of the thick humidity I remembered
from long ago. I started sweating right away. As I took a full stretch, my
bones creaked and cracked, and I frowned.

Three days on a bus gives you the creaky
bones.

Three years in the joint gives you the
frown.

The passengers stood around: an
odds-and-ends collection of smelly backpackers, Jap tourists here on the cheap,
plus a couple of scowling Miami jigs — low-grade street types draped in
gold, probably down here to make a dope drop.

As soon as the driver pulled the bags out
of the belly of the bus, I snatched mine and headed across the small parking
lot for a little rooming house nearby on Angela Street. It wasn't even a
two-minute walk, but by the time I got there, splotches of sweat had stained
the front and back of my guayabera.

Welcome home, pal.

Inside, I signed the register, then paid
the deposit. I paused for just a moment, looking at my signature. "Don Roy
Doyle," it read. That was the first time in a long time that I'd written
my name for anything other than prison shit.

Before my frown dissolved at this
liberating thought, I remembered what got me sent up in the first place.

The clerk pushed me the key. I headed
upstairs with more than a little snap in my step. Slipping the key into the
lock, I gave it a turn. Then I stepped back just a shade.

I cracked the door a couple of inches, but
I didn't push it all the way in. Instead, I closed it again, then reopened it.
Opening my own door. With my own key. How long had it been?

The room was boiling. I flipped the AC on
high, then peeled off my clothes. With nobody around.

By normal standards, I'm sure it was just
an average-sized room, but compared to my Nevada cell, it seemed gigantic. It
was a lot more space and a far better view than I'd been used to, and it was
all mine.

Smiling, I turned the light on and off a
few times, watching the bulb react to my switch-clicking. Then I moved to the
center of the room where I stretched my arms out as far as they would go. I
turned a couple of complete three-sixties without touching anything.

With those luxuries under my belt, I
checked out the rack. It was huge, compared to the little slab I'd slept on for
years. I hadn't had my feet up in three days and sweet sleep was calling me.

I didn't even pull back the covers.

 

≈≈≈

 

I came to at twilight. The humming AC cooled the room to
perfection. I felt rested for the first time since I left Nevada. I took a
long, warm shower in wonderful solitude, without worrying about anyone trying
to fuck with me.

Afterward, I pulled a fresh guayabera and a
clean pair of cotton pants out of my bag. I could wear what I wanted now, so I
took my own sweet time getting dressed.

With my brushed-back hair still wet, I
headed down the stairs, out into the warm night. Man, I felt great.

And now, it was showtime.

TWO
 
 

FIRST
stop, Sullivan's.

Right in the heart of Duval Street, Key
West's main drag. It was still happening, still the Keys' hottest Irish pub,
packed with tourists and fancy-assed locals, slamming back the whiskey and cold
brew as fast as it could be poured.

Not my kind of place, but so what.

People crammed the tables along the wall
opposite the bar, wanting to feel the music coming from the high-energy piano
player in the window. No Irish folk songs here, only hard-driving rock &
roll. Dancers filled the aisle down the center.

The AC blew full bore, but it was no use in
this crowd. Hairdos, which earlier in the evening had poofed up perfectly in
the mirror at home, now hung limp over sweaty foreheads.

Almost buried in the racket, the continuous
ringing of the cash register bled through. Nothing had changed in three years.

I shoved my way to the rear of the club
where I spotted him in his usual seat in the far corner. There were a couple of
others at the table with him, including a cooing brunette, not his wife,
running long manicured fingers through his hair. She had his total attention,
so he didn't see me until I was right up on him.

"Hello, Sully," I said,
disregarding the others.

It startled him.

I sat down without being invited while I waited
for him to say something. Finally, he gathered himself.

"Don Roy! Well, son of a gun! When'd
you get back?" He stuck out his hand.

I shook it, raising my voice to be heard
above the music. "Fresh out. Just got in today."

My eyes scanned the room, taking in the
frenzied activity.

"Looks like things have gone pretty well
since I've been gone. Real well." His nod said they did.

Sully didn't look like he'd changed any at
all. He hadn't added any weight to his slender frame, while his well-preserved
boyish face showed dollar-green eyes, still cold and indifferent.

We looked at each other for a second. Then
I said, "Let's go upstairs for a minute." I picked up a napkin from
the table and wiped sweat off my neck and forehead.

The piano player kicked off a Jerry Lee
Lewis tune as Sully excused himself. We got up from the table, heading for the
back steps to the office.

The office.

It was more like Sully's tribute to
himself. Quiet lighting and tasteful furniture were upstaged by dozens of
photos on the walls. Tacky framed pictures of Sully with his arm around various
VIPs reminded visitors of his respectability. Most were taken during his ten
years in Key West, but a few offered glimmers into his New Orleans past.

There he is with rogue governor Edwin
Edwards.

Here's one with aging mobster Carlos
Marcello.

Over here, he's getting the bear hug from
Al Hirt, while French Quarter emperor AJ Frechette looks on.

I had to admit, not bad for a tough New
Orleans Irish Channel kid named Frankie Sullivan, who started from zero.

Now, according to this fancy-looking
Chamber of Commerce certificate decorating the wall above his desk, his grifter
days are behind him. The Chamber conveniently forgot to include in that
certificate that he came here a few years ago on the lam, and now he's Mister
Francis X Sullivan, solid citizen and dispenser of good times to those who
count here on this island at the end of the road.

He moved around behind the desk and sat in
the big chair. Even though he was a little guy, he seemed to fill it up. I took
the seat in front. The desk was big, too big, made of dark wood.
Great Balls
of Fire
was only faintly audible from downstairs.

"So, you look good," he said
uneasily. "You've slimmed down a little."

"Prison'll do that."

"A little gray around the temples,
too, huh?" He fingered his temples, saying, "Yeah, we're getting to
that age, you know. I'll be forty-six next time. You and me, we're about the
same age, right?"

His hair was still brown all over, with
glints of red reflecting in the office light.

"I just turned forty." I didn't
like saying that.

He reached into a desk drawer for a fresh
pack of cigarettes. I could tell he was trying not to notice that I never took
my eyes off him, off his every movement. He slowly stripped off the cellophane
top, then shook a few partway out of the package and held it out toward me.

"No, thanks," I said. "I
quit right after I got locked up."

"You quit? Hey, way to go. I wish I
could do it. Was it hard?"

"Cigarettes are like money in there.
It's like smoking dollar bills."

"Really?"

"No point to it. When I looked at it
like that, it made quitting a lot easier."

He nodded and stuck one between his lips.

"Listen, boyo, I was real sorry to
hear about your mom. She was a great lady."

I looked away. "At least she didn't suffer
much."

"Thank God. We should all be so lucky.
Too bad it happened after you went away. She's in heaven right now, I
know."

He flicked his gold lighter. The flame
licked the tip of the cigarette, then he pulled in the first drag, a deep
inhale. He let out the smoke in a thin, gray curl toward the ceiling. For just
a split second, I thought about having one, it looked so good.

I wanted to move on to something else. He
picked up on it.

"Man, we just had the biggest St
Paddy's day ever. You shoulda been here. The town was mobbed with tourists and
the Irish ambassador himself was here from Washington. Miami TV was here to
cover it. BK was here — oh, did you know, he's the mayor now after taking
over from his daddy? Like, who didn't see that coming, right? Anyway, all the
local bigshots showed up."

He leaned back, drawing again on his
cigarette. He blew a perfect smoke ring to celebrate this big event. He looked
like he was finished with this story, but then he added, "We took in
thirteen grand!"

That wasn't what I wanted to talk about,
either.

I saw the Bushmill's bottle on the shelf to
my left, along with several rocks glasses lined up around it. I reached for it,
then poured a shot into one of the glasses.

I gently sipped the magic fluid, pushing
back the temptation to chug it. My first taste of Irish whiskey in three years.
It was the good stuff: single malt, ten years old. It went down slow and warm.

For just a moment, I remembered back to
when I was a teenager, watching my grandfather drinking this stuff from a
private stash. He and my grandmother didn't have much money, but he'd sometimes
manage to save up enough to buy a bottle of the single malt, then he'd squirrel
it away so she wouldn't find it. He used to tell me about one of our ancestors
— I forget which one — who was a bigshot at the Bushmill's
distillery over in Ireland way back when.

I almost smiled.

"Thirteen grand's pretty strong,
Sully."

"Damn right it is. And it's gonna get
stronger. I'm thinkin' of opening another Sullivan's up in South Beach. And get
this. I got an angle to move into Cuba when they open things up down there.
Should be pretty soon now."

"Cuba?"

"Oh, man. It's gonna be great.
Castro'll be history by the end of the year, you know, now that the Soviet
Union is no more. The Russians are gone, so he's on his way out. And when he
goes, things are gonna explode here."

"You think so?"

"Well, you know they don't have shit
down there right now. There's all kinds of shortages all over the damn place.
And the infrastructure? Forget it. They won't be able to accommodate a lot of
tourists for quite a while because they need everything."

"Everything?"

"Damn right. They need telephones,
gasoline, good hotels, fucking toilet paper, the whole ball of wax. Paved
roads, every goddamn thing."

"Really."

"No shit. It's gonna be years before
they're really ready for the huge number of Americans who want to go there. And
until then, a lot of people are gonna stay here and in Miami, in real hotels,
and just take short day trips to Cuba. Man, this is where it's at right
now."

"You said you're working an angle to
move down there?"

"I can't tell you about it now, cause
it's still in the planning stages, but the deal kind of involves BK."

"What's BK got to do with it?"

"Well … I can't really say anything
just yet, but he's behind it."

"Sounds like you've got big plans,
Sully."

I sipped slowly at the Irish whiskey.

"Expansion," he said. "That's
what it's all about. Hey, man, you got to move up or move out. This is the
nineties, you know?"

This was only 1991, but I was already tired
of hearing people say, "This is the nineties." The way they said it,
I don't know, it was like it excused any type of idiotic behavior or
off-the-wall attitude
. Hey, I know I'm an asshole, but so what! This is the
nineties!

I hated it.

They'd even picked up on it in the joint.
It looked like I was in for another nine years of it, but I swear, if I heard
even one more person say it …

"So, uh, what're you gonna do now? I
mean, now that you're back."

I took
another sip without taking my eyes off him. "You know what I want."

He paused and looked at his cigarette, but
he didn't flinch.

"Sure, I know what you want. You want
about two hundred thousand that you think you've got coming to you from our
Vegas swindle."

"
Think
I've got coming to me?
Think
I've got
coming? I don't think anything. I
know
we got nearly a half a million from it. Take out our planning costs, including
the fake diamonds, and that leaves about two hundred K apiece."

He leaned forward in his chair and looked
straight at me. Then he said in a voice as cold as his eyes, "Yes, it
does. But let me tell you something, boyo. There
is
no money."

The Bushmill's suddenly ignited in my
stomach.

"What do you mean, there is no money?

"I mean, it's not here. I invested it.
My share, too!"

"Invested it? What the fuck are you
talking about?"

"I'm telling you straight. I washed it
through the club and then, you know, I gave it to a legit guy, an investment
counselor up in Miami, and he put it to work for us in straight-up investments.
Like these groups that invest in apartment complexes and office buildings and
shit."

"Office buildings? You're telling me
my money wound up in some fucking office building somewhere?"

"It went into a tax-sheltered
corporation with a bunch of other people's money. It's like an investment. Look
at it as planning for your retirement. I can't have that kind of cash just
lying around here. This way, you actually own part of these properties. I think
he said there's one up in North Carolina, and another one somewhere near
Houston...or was it Dallas?"

He gazed off toward the ceiling while he
dragged another deep one on his cigarette.

Now it was my turn to lean forward. I did,
all the way across the desk. I opened my mouth, then pulled back my cheek,
showing an empty space where quite a few back teeth used to be.

"Look at this, motherfucker! Are you
telling me that I fought off niggers and Mexicans for three years so I could
come back and hear this bullshit?"

"Hey, I know it was tough for you. But
don't forget, I took a big chance. When we got ratted out, you may have taken
the fall, but I snuffed the rat. A capital offense, in case you've
forgotten."

I swept my arm hard across his desk. His
fancy pen holder, his desk calendar, his telephone, the picture of his wife, it
all went flying across the room.

"Fuck that! You think I did that bit
so you could sit around here on your skinny little ass hauling in dough night
after night? All I understand is that my cut is in someone else's pocket!
Probably yours. Now cough it up!"

He stayed cool. "Hey, my man! I don't
have your money. I told you, it's all tied up. You can't get to it. And neither
can I."

He took a slow drag off his dwindling
cigarette, examining the tip as he brought it down from his mouth.

"I want you to think back, Don Roy.
Remember, after you left Key West, you scrounged around Vegas for what —
two or three years — working these nickel-dime mail order scams and other
bullshit routines. You were nowhere till we pulled that diamond sting."

My voice barely contained my rage.
"And I was the one who took down the mark."

"
I'm
the one who set that score
up, and it took me, like, six or seven months. This was the take of a lifetime,
boyo! What do you think, I'm gonna turn over two hundred dimes in cash to you
in a brown paper bag so you can run around buying cars and shit? I'm protecting
us, you understand? Now if you got a problem with that, take it up with the
investment counselor."

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