Jack Craig stopped on the top step of police headquarters to give his left hip a quick jab from a gloved fist. He’d lied about his age to fight in the war, and had earned a chunk of shrapnel in his leg at Saint-Mihiel for his trouble. His career as a solider had ended there, but the pain was still with him, especially on days like this when his breath hung in the air like the smoke from a rifle, and the ice on the roads glistened in the sun like blood on the battle field. Craig hated Chicago. He hated the cold that came off the lake and the smells from the docks that came with it. He hated the steel and terra cotta monstrosities that passed for buildings, and he hated having to deal with local officials who cared a lot more about their Christmas bonus from the mob than the stipend they got from the tax payers. They kept the voters just happy enough to keep their seats at the table, but it was the booze runners who kept the table set. Jack would have to play coy when dealing with them, from the patrolmen all the way up to the commissioner he was about to meet.
“What can the C.P.D. do for the Treasury Department today,” said Commissioner Hughes, peering over the round spectacles perched atop a beak-like nose. Craig slotted him in with officers he’d known who managed to keep the shine on their shoes while wading through other men’s guts. He was stiff, proper, and probably highly competent at what he did, whatever that was. Craig noted the man’s suit. Conservative, not flashy, it didn’t reek of a mob funded bank account. Maybe, just maybe, Hughes was all right.
“You have a local named Tom King who interests us,” Craig said.
“King? He’s small potatoes. He’s a low level pimp and a fixer. He might sell some booze now and then, but he isn’t a major player.”
“Maybe not in Chicago, but we have information linking him to an operation that covers a good chunk of the southwest. King is a big time distributor,” Craig said, studying Hughes’ face for hints the news might not be new to him, and coming up with nothing.
Hughes gestured for Craig to have a seat, and settled into his own chair behind a desk just cluttered enough to give Craig a picture of Hughes’ work habits. The bread crumbs on the blotter and dirty coffee mug didn’t go with the perfectly parted hair and manicured nails. This wasn’t just for show. Hughes put in a lot of hours behind that desk. Hughes pushed a glass ashtray toward Craig, took a pipe out of his pocket, tapped it on the corner of the desk, and lit it. Craig lit a cigarette and dropped the match into the ashtray. Craig decided to lay it all out.
“We think the key that opens the door to King might be a former employee of his named Marco Greco. We understand the two of them aren’t on the best of terms lately.”
“There’s talk King was involved in the murder of Greco’s brother, and that Marco was supposed to have been taken out along with him,” said Hughes. “He might talk, but good luck finding him. Rumor has it he went back east.”
Craig shook his head. “Nobody in New York has seen or heard from him. We think he’s still here, gunning for King.”
“I suppose it’s possible,” Hughes said after considering it for a moment. “From what I’ve heard he isn’t very bright. He might be sticking around to avenge his brother, but I have no idea where he might be holed up. Nobody would touch him after he killed that girl. He was poison even before King decided he wanted him dead.”
“I heard about that,” said Craig. “Wasn’t she expecting?”
The corners of Hughes’ mouth bent down to almost meet his chin, while his brow tried to knock his glasses down his nose. The wise old owl had been replaced by a hawk.
“She was,” he replied, forcing the words out like they were something that would sting him if they got loose. “We think they were after a boxer named Salvatore Cerone, and the girl just happened to be too close to him when they hit.”
“What happened to the boxer?”
“Alive, but blind. The priests at Saint Patrick’s over on West Adams took him in. The kid’s life is ruined. We catch Greco, he fries.”
“Unless he spills what he knows about King,” Craig said, standing. “Life in a cage beats death in the chair, or getting his head shot off because he showed his face in public. Marco should be more than willing to deal. Let’s put the word out, and maybe he’ll come to us.”
Craig crushed out his cigarette in the ashtray, handed Hughes a card with the number of the hotel where he was staying, and showed himself out. He was sure Hughes wasn’t on the take, but he was equally sure he wouldn’t do much to ensure Greco’s safety.
* * *
Two nights later, Craig was shivering next to a patrolman with a bad cough at the entrance to the alley that ran along the side of the new Banker’s Building on Adams and South Clark. A little after 3 A.M., Craig had received a call from Hughes to tell him they’d found a body under some debris left from the construction. They hadn’t identified the corpse yet, but all bets were on Greco. Craig was trying to stomp some feeling back into his feet when a patrol car stopped at the curb to let Hughes out.
“Had a look yet?” Hughes asked, squinting at Craig while wiping the condensation off his glasses with a monogrammed handkerchief.
“I was waiting for you. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”
The patrolman with the cough stepped aside, letting them pass down the alley. They had to climb over some boards, and a stack of paint cans before they reached the group of men clustered around the prone form, partially buried under a wheelbarrow with a broken handle and a pile of paint stained rags. One of the men, upon seeing Hughes, dropped his cigarette, and rushed up to greet him.
“He’s right over here, sir,” he announced, pointing at the rubbish heap. “A vagrant found him. He said he was looking for something to use as a blanket, and found the dead man in that pile.”
As they got closer, another detective turned the beam of his lantern on the face of the corpse. Craig, who was a few steps behind Hughes, heard the commissioner gasp, and leaned forward for a better view. It was as bad as anything he’d seen in the war. The front of the corpse’s head was nothing but red, bloody meat with nothing to indicate there had ever been a nose or a mouth in the mix. It looked like somebody had worked him over with a sledge hammer. Craig noted the pair of two tone oxfords sticking out of the pile, and tried to size the body up.
“Wasn’t Greco about six two?”
“He was over six feet,” responded Hughes, following Craig’s gaze to the shoes.
“Then, unless he’s folded in half, this isn’t him,” Craig said, lifting the wheelbarrow.
The body in the blood spattered herringbone suit couldn’t have been more than six inches over five feet. Craig lifted the dead man’s left hand, and directed the man with the light to focus his beam on it. Wiping the blood off the gold signet ring with one of the rags from the pile, Craig revealed a crown etched in the surface, a diamond on each of the three points.
“It looks like Marco got the King,” said one of the detectives, his words coming out on clouds of vapor redolent of bath tub gin.
“Maybe,” replied Craig. He’d dropped the dead man’s hand and was poking around the remnants of the face with a pencil. Letting out a whistle, he used the pencil to pull something long and red from the jagged hole near where the meat oozed over the collar. To the men watching it looked like he was turning the whole mess inside out.
“What the hell is that?” Hughes asked as he watched Craig drape his trophy over a board.
“Somebody didn’t want King making any noise while they worked on him,” said Craig. “They stuffed a rag in his mouth.”
Down at the mouth of the alley there was a commotion. The meat wagon had arrived, and with it had come the ghouls. They congregated like vultures around the patrolman who guarded the entrance, jostling each other to get a taste of something to bring home to their wives or spit out, embellished with half-baked theories, from a bar stool. Without being told, everyone with a badge, save for Hughes and Craig, made their way over to help the lone sentry hold off the mob. Soon more police would arrive and King would be scraped onto a stretcher and hauled off to be examined under the harsh lights of the city morgue.
“I’m sorry, Craig,” Hughes said as the two men made their way back to the waiting patrol car. “Marco will be long gone by now. There goes your case.”
“I’m not so sure,” Craig responded. “I can see Marco putting a bullet into King, or maybe even slipping a blade between his ribs, but this took a lot of work, a lot of work and a lot of hatred.”
Early the next morning, as the sun melted the previous night’s snow into a gray mush that splattered on the cuffs of his pants and soaked through his shoes, Craig waited in the alley behind the morgue. King’s murder had made a big stir, and every typewriter jockey in town wanted to get their name under those big bold letters on page one. Craig was determined to remain invisible to them. He waited until he saw what he hoped was the last reporter jump in a cab, and ducked inside. He flashed his credentials at a uniformed man stationed at a desk by the front door, and made his way down a windowless hall that led to a staircase leading down to where the bodies were kept. He’d only descended two of the metal steps when a voice from below informed him there would be no more interviews that day.
“This won’t take long,” Craig said, descending the rest of the way to confront a man in a white coat with a complexion that hadn’t been above ground in decades. After squinting for several minutes at the badge Craig shoved under his nose, followed by the note Hughes had given him the previous evening directing anyone who read it to cooperate, the man frowned, and folded his arms across his chest, daring Craig to take up too much of his time. Craig decided either the news hounds had soured him on conversation, or he had just been born sour. Either way, Craig wasn’t leaving until he got some answers.
“One of your recent guests came in looking like he he’d been fed through a meat grinder. Any ideas yet of what happened to him?”
“I know exactly what happened to him,” responded the man. “Somebody beat him to death.”
“With what? It looked like his head had been run over by a truck.”
“I can’t be certain, but, judging by the way the bones of the face were fractured, I would say he was hit repeatedly, head on, by an object about the size of a man’s fist. The blow that killed him snapped his neck, but he couldn’t have still been conscious by that point.”
“So, someone tied him to a chair and punched him until he died?”
“No, he wasn’t sitting,” the man in the white coat responded, obviously bored with the whole affair, and more than a little tired of repeating the same story. “If he had been sitting, whoever killed him would have been punching down, and there probably would have been more damage to the top of the skull. He wasn’t sitting, and he wasn’t leaning against a wall. There isn’t a bruise on the posterior of the body, at least not what you would expect if he had been pounded into a hard surface from the front.”
“So they had him laying on something soft, like a mattress,” Craig said coolly, dismissing the mystery.
“That’s what an amateur might come up with. When a person dies the blood settles in the lowest parts. If he had been on his back that area would have been discolored instead of his lower extremities. Tom King was on his feet for a good while after his death.”
“That line might impress the reporters,” Craig said, “but it sounds more to me like I’m not the only amateur around here. You have to be reading it wrong.”
Craig regretted it as soon as he said it. He wouldn’t get anything else out of the man, even with a letter from Calvin Coolidge. Without bothering with the niceties of a farewell, he climbed back up the stairs and headed off to consult with a bloody rag in the evidence room of police headquarters.
“They’re looking at that,” the clerk said from behind the issue of Physical Culture he was reading. “I don’t think they’ll come back with much though. It was just a piece of an old sweat rag.”
“How do you know it was used for sweat?” Craig asked. “Maybe it was used to mop up something else, something that might tell us where it came from.”
“Underneath all that blood there was a CAA stamp. Maybe I’m pissing in the wind here, but that sounds like it came from The Chicago Athletic Association to me. I’ve seen rags like that around at the gym.”
Craig tapped his fingers on the edge of the desk while he sorted through the clues stored in his head, searching for a place where this new information might fit. He sifted through it until he came to a boxer named Sal, and the bombing that had set off a chain of events that led to a dead man beneath a broken wheelbarrow.
“Know anything about that boxer who got himself blinded awhile back?” Craig asked.
“Sure,” responded the man, suddenly interested enough to put down his magazine. “I used to spar with him until he knocked me out by accident. He had a hell of a punch. He was going places before he lost his eyes.”
“Know where I might run into him these days?”
“He was staying over at St. Pat’s, but your best bet would be to check out Benny’s place over on East 13th. You’ll probably find him punishing the heavy bags.”
Craig caught a Birney and slid into the cherry wood bench next to an old man with an empty right sleeve. He looked about the right age to have been in the war, but Craig wasn’t about to wake him up to ask him. He’d selected that seat because he wanted to avoid conversation. He needed to think, and the occasional snore was a lot less destructive to the process than a chatterbox. People in Chicago tended to keep to themselves, but you never knew when you would get stuck sitting next to an oddball.
By the time he opened the door under the sign informing him he was about to enter Benny’s Athletic Club, the pain in Craig’s leg had progressed from a dull ache to a sharp searing pang. Every step he took was like getting stabbed. Inside, a skinny kid whipped the air with a jump rope, and two men, twice Craig’s age, huffed and puffed while meekly jabbing at one another. Craig could have knocked them both out by blowing on them. Nobody there looked all that tough, except for the man with the bandage over his eyes working over the hundred pound bag in the corner. His hands bandaged but gloveless, he pushed the bag around like it was stuffed with feathers, never missing his mark despite not being able to see it.
As Craig watched the man, awed by his ferocity, he failed to notice the smaller man who came up behind him.
“Looking to get in shape?” asked the man, reaching up to pat Craig on the back.
Startled, Craig turned, his hands instinctively folding into fists. The little man took a step back and made a shield out of his palms.
“Take it easy there, champ. I’m Benny. I own this joint.”
“Then you’re the man I want to talk to,” Craig said, flashing his badge. “You got an office?”
Benny worked the toothpick from the corner to the center of his mouth and spit it on the floor, then turned his back on Craig, shuffling off toward the door at the far end of the room. The pain in his leg made keeping up with the little man a chore, but he was determined not to show it. Not yet thirty, Craig felt like he was the old man.
Benny led him into a cluttered little room more closet than office. Crammed in with the boxes, punching bags and stacks of towels, a card table served as Benny’s desk. Benny pushed a stack of papers off the chair beside it and sat down. There was no chair for Craig.
“What are you looking for, pal?” Benny asked.
“A local hood named Tom King showed up dead, and I’m trying to find out why,” Craig told him, leaning on the table to hover over Benny. Normally it would have been a move meant to intimidate, but Craig was thinking more about relieving the burden on his leg. “We think he might have been a member here.”
“Never heard of him,” Benny said, but the brief smile that flashed across his face when Craig suggested King was interested in athletics meant something. King was the type who preferred to let others do his sweating for him, and Benny knew it.
“What about Marco Greco? Ever heard of him?”
“I can’t say I have,” Benny said, taking a toothpick out of his pocket.
“I’m sure that blind guy out there killing your punching bag knows him. Greco is the one who took his eyes. Think it would do any good to ask him, or is he just going to give me the run around too?”
“Sal’s a good kid,” Benny said, suddenly animated. “He doesn’t know who was responsible, and wants no part of it. He just wants to get on with his life.”
Craig saw Benny’s eyes shift briefly to a picture frame sitting face down on the table amongst the clutter. Before Benny could object, he snatched it up. The frame contained a picture of Sal in better times. He had his arm around a pretty dark-haired girl. Both of them were smiling like they had a future.
“Pretty girl,” Craig said while Benny glowered like he was watching an infidel using the Holy of Holies for a toilet.
“My daughter,” said Benny, his pride conquering his reticence. “She was my angel.”
Benny didn’t have to say any more. Craig suddenly realized Benny was a key player. If he had known Benny was the murdered girl’s father he wouldn’t have come charging in like he did. Now Benny would be on his guard.
“I guess I’m barking up the wrong tree here,” Craig said, putting the picture into Benny’s outstretched hand. “You got a phone around here so I can call a cab? I think I’ve been bounced around enough by your street cars for one day.”
“I’ll call one for you,” Benny said. “Go out front to the bench and take a load off. Just do me a favor and go outside if you want to smoke. The boys smell it, and suddenly they all want to go on a break.”
Craig stood outside, leaning against the wall with his weight on his good leg. He he’d tried the bench, but it reminded him too much of the seats in the Birney, and the noise made it hard to think. Before he had turned to walk out, he’d watched Benny hurriedly shove the picture under a folder like it was burning his hand. It had been facedown because Benny wasn’t ready to look at it. Craig decided he needed to talk to Sal, but without Benny there to coach him.
Craig was burning through his second cigarette when a gray touring car pulled up in front of the gym. A pockmarked man leaned out of the passenger window and asked about the time to get Craig’s attention. Craig didn’t bother to check his watch. The gun in the hand of the man in the back seat told him his time was up. While the man in back kept the gun on him, another man climbed over him and rushed up to Craig. It was clumsy, but with Craig too sore to move, it worked. The gunman slid over, and Craig was pushed in next to him. The third man squeezed in and reached under Craig’s coat, yanking his gun from his shoulder holster.
“Got anymore toys on you?” he asked, passing Craig’s gun to a man in the front seat who gazed at it lovingly.
“Why not pull over so you can search me?”
“Funny,” said the other man, stabbing the barrel of his gun under Craig’s ribs, giving it a twist as he ground it in. Regarding the skinny weasel of a man, Craig knew he could have knocked the grin off of his twitching mouth if he had room to swing. Guys like that do just fine pulling the wings off of flies, but wilt pretty fast when they see their own blood. Under normal circumstances that gun wouldn’t have helped him much.
“You’re pretty brave with that rod stuck to your arm,” Craig said between clenched teeth. “Maybe later we’ll see how you do without it.”
“There’ll be plenty of time for pissing contests later,” interjected the pockmarked man. “Right now we want to keep it friendly. Just sit tight. We aren’t going far.”
They pulled up next to a warehouse on the docks and waited until a shiny black sedan pulled up next to them. The driver got out and switched places with the pockmarked man who talked with the man in the back seat for a few minutes before Craig was escorted over and shoved in.
“Why were you limping?” asked the Irishman, sliding over to give Craig more room. “I told them to bring you in easy.”
“The Germans didn’t get that order,” said Craig, rubbing his thigh.
“You don’t look old enough. I saw some fighting myself with the 33rd. I got a lot of Germans back for you on the banks of the Somme.”
“Thanks,” said Craig. “Is that all you wanted to tell me?”
“I want you to tell me something, soldier. Start with why you were snooping around Benny’s place.”
“One of your playmates turned up dead in an alley, and left a trail of bread crumbs leading back to the gym. I normally wouldn’t be interested, but I put a lot of work into cornering this dead man, and wanted to know who’d screwed it up for me.”
“Why were you after King?”
“That’s Treasury Department business, but I’m sure you can guess it didn’t involve any of the penny-ante rackets you guys were fighting over.”
“I didn’t think King was big enough to attract your kind of attention. Guess he had us all fooled.”
“There was nothing big about him,” Craig snapped. “He was a little man who stumbled into something that looked good, but was more than he could handle. I was more interested in who he was going to bring down with him. Somebody shut him up before I could get to him, and I want to know who it was.”
“Marco Greco killed King,” stated the Irishman. He said it with the conviction of a man explaining the sun would rise in the morning.
“I’m not buying that,” Craig responded. “The theory is Marco wanted King dead for what happened to his brother, but King didn’t kill his brother. I checked into it. Sure, he signed off on it, maybe even pointed his brother out to the gunmen, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Marco might have wanted King dead, but he wouldn’t have been first on the list.”
“Maybe he got those other guys first,” said the Irishman, his red face darkening a shade.
Craig shook his head. “I wouldn’t be here if that were the case. But don’t worry. I don’t care who killed Simone Greco, and neither does anyone else. Nobody wants to prosecute the hero who took out the bum who blew up a pregnant woman. It’s just a shame they didn’t get Marco too.”
“Could be they tried, but somebody tipped Marco off first,” the Irishman responded, his face turned toward the window so Craig couldn’t read it.
The Irishman must have given a signal because the door opened, and the pockmarked man motioned for Craig to get out.
“We’re done here,” said the man, handing Craig back his gun. “There’s a pay phone about a block down that way,” he added, pointing. “Need a dime?”
“No thanks,” Craig said, checking his gun. The bullets had all been removed, but otherwise it was the same as when he he’d given it up. As he watched them drive off, he pulled the toothpick he’d found on the seat of the touring car out of his pocket and examined it. He decided now would be a good time for that talk with a blind boxer.
Craig had learned that with King dead, Sal had left the protection of the church and had been staying in a room behind the gym. Craig waited by the news stand across the street, pretending to read the paper until he saw Benny lock up. He didn’t figure there would be any point in knocking, so he walked a block and cut down the alley that led to the back of the building until he came to a rusty metal door. There was no number on the door, but somebody had painted “B.G.” on the lid of the trash can next to it. He picked up the lid and slammed it against the can, and then kicked the can a few times, hoping the noise would carry past the door. It did. The door groaned open and the heat from inside flooded over Craig. A large hand hung on to the knob, pulling the giant it was attached to out into the alley.
“Leave that can alone!” the giant bellowed.
“I’m not interested in your garbage, Sal. I came to talk,” Craig responded, making sure to keep out of reach of Sal’s fists.
“Who’s there? What do you want with me?”
“Just a nobody from the Treasury Department,” Craig responded. “Sorry about the racket, but I didn’t think you’d have answered if I knocked.”
“I got no business with the government. Go away,” Sal said, stepping back into the room, taking the heat with him.
“It’s about your pal, Benny. I think he might be mixed up with some men who don’t have his best interests at heart,” Craig blurted. The door stopped closing.
“Go on. Tell me about it.”
“Mind if I tell you inside? I have a bum leg, and this weather is trying to eat a hole in it.”
Sal pushed the door open the rest of the way and retreated back into the darkness. Craig followed. Reaching the middle of the room, Sal waved his hand above his head until he found the chain hanging from the ceiling light and gave it a tug. The room was small but tidy, with only a bed a night stand, and an uncomfortable looking arm chair in the corner. On the night stand there was a rosary on top of a Bible Sal could no longer read, and a bottle of women’s perfume. Craig assumed the perfume had belonged to the dead girlfriend. It was a blind man’s version of a photograph.
“I saw you working out. That’s quite a punch you have,” Craig said, settling into the armchair.
“Benny thinks it gives inspiration to the other guys. He lets me help coach them, and I clean up around here as best I can. I pull my own weight.”
“I’m sure you do,” Craig responded, trying to read Sal’s thoughts through the scars. Without the bandage that had covered his eyes in the gym, Sal evoked images of friends Craig had left on the battlefield. It was unsettling to see someone like that up and talking. “Ever hear of a guy named Dean Byrne? He’s known as the Irishman.”
“I’ve heard of him. He gives a lot of money to the church.”
“He’s also sent a lot of souls to the devil,” said Craig, “including one of the men who took your eyes.”
“I don’t know anything about that, and I don’t want to,” Sal said, reaching out to rest his hand on his Bible. “God knows what these men have done, and God will deal with them.”
“What about Benny? Is he a man of faith?”
“Benny is a good man,” Sal said. His voice was steady, but Craig noticed his fist had clenched around the rosary. “He’s not like them.”
“I hope you’re right,” Craig replied. “I’d hate to think that gun Benny has pointed at me was about to go off.”
Benny was standing in the doorway between Sal’s room and the hall leading to the gym. He stuffed the hand holding the gun into the pocket of his coat.
“I saw the light was on and heard voices,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “I thought there might be trouble.”
“Who you got out there with you?” Craig asked, rising to confront Benny.
“Nobody,” Benny, stammered, looking like a man who was just told his fly was unbuttoned.
The second shadow behind Benny disappeared as Craig rushed past him, his gun drawn. Out in the hall, a heavy-set man, nearly as tall as Sal, ran toward the gym, dragging the shadow behind him. Craig started after him, but his leg objected with a sharp jolt that nearly put him on the floor.
“Who the hell was that?” he snarled, whirling toward Benny, the gun still in his hand.
“Just a guy who helps me move the equipment around,” Benny said, raising his hands. “Some of that stuff is heavy.”
Craig grabbed the gun out of Benny’s pocket and stuffed it into his own.
“Let’s go see if your helper was dumb enough to stick around,” said Craig, pushing Benny ahead of him.
“He’s long gone by now,” said Benny, climbing into the boxing ring with Craig a few minutes later.
“I know,” Craig responded. “I have some questions I didn’t think you’d want to answer in front of Sal, starting with why you’re palling around with one of the guys who killed your daughter. And don’t play stupid. I’ve spent enough lonely nights with Marco Greco’s mug shot to know him when he’s right in front of me.”
“It’s like I said. He’s helping me out.”
Craig leaned against the ropes, watching Benny pace back and forth like a bantamweight sizing up an opponent. Tired and sore, he wasn’t in the mood to play.
“OK, let me tell you what I think happened,” Craig announced. “Feel free to fill in any details I missed. A couple bums botched a hit, and an innocent girl, your daughter, ended up dead. The public was calling for these guys’ heads, and you figured out a way to make it happen with the help of the Irishman, but what you really wanted was the guy who gave the order. Part of it was self-preservation, since you knew too much about his involvement. Part of it was an understandable desire to see him get what was coming to him. Sound right so far?”
Benny had stopped pacing. “Maybe,” he muttered without looking up from the floor.
“Good enough,” Craig continued. “Now your problem was getting to King. You knew you weren’t going to be able to just waltz up to him and blow his head off. You had to find a way to lure him out. I’m guessing that’s where Marco comes in. You were the one who tipped him off about the hit, making sure the news came too late for him to save his brother. Once King found out Marco was on the loose, he would do anything to find him. He wasn’t about to let a guy who knew that much about his operations roam free. I’m not sure how you got over working with the triggerman in your daughter’s murder. Maybe you told yourself taking out his brother evened things up. Maybe you just hated King that much.”
Craig paused to light a cigarette, and give Benny time to catch up. It was a lot to take in, even if you knew the material.
“Now here’s the messy part. You didn’t just want King dead. You wanted him to suffer. If you were bigger, and a few years younger, you would have pounded the life out of him. Sal could do it, but Sal wasn’t in for it. That’s where the bag comes in. After Marco got King here, you stuffed him into one of those punching bags, probably padded it up just enough so Sal wouldn’t notice it was off, and let Sal go to town on him. You made that kid a murderer and he never even suspected. You could have let Marco do the job. It might have taken a little longer, but Marco is a big boy. I’m sure his punches hurt bad enough. Why involve the kid at all?”
“Because it was his baby they killed!” Benny shouted, tears streaming down his cheeks. “It was justice! Sal needed to get him back whether he wanted to or not! King wanted Sal to take a dive, but he wouldn’t do it. He brought in the Grecos to kill Sal, but they got my little girl instead.”
“So you went to the Irishman, who wanted King gone too, but didn’t want to sign his name to the job. Marco was the dangerous brother, so he concocted a scheme to take out Simone and pin it on King, figuring Marco would handle things for you. You didn’t want that though, did you? You let King go through with it, but all you wanted Marco for was a patsy.”
“Sal deserved to have a hand in it. He deserved to be the one who did it.”
“Or maybe because you trained him,” Craig said coldly. “Using his fists was the next best thing to using your own.”
Benny started to object but was cut off by the bullet that tore into his back, sending him forward into Craig’s arms. Craig let Benny’s lifeless body slide to the floor, and took aim at the man standing in the darkness just outside of the ring, but was hit in the shoulder before he could make the shot. His gun slipped from his grasp as his arm went numb.
“I guess it’s a good thing I came back to finish you,” said Marco, stepping into the light. “That was a good story you told, especially the part about Benny putting the finger on my brother. That was news to me.”
Craig saw a shadow moving in the hall behind Marco, and realized Sal had heard the shots and was coming to investigate. He knew he had to keep Marco talking and distracted so Sal could get to him. If Sal could get close enough without giving himself away there was a chance he could take Marco down.
“You got Benny,” Craig shouted. “Now why not scoot before somebody comes to check out the fireworks?”
“You know I can’t do that,” Marco said with a sneer. “I’ve got two loose ends to tie up.”
“Then I guess you’ll never know what the cops have planned for you. I know the roads out of town they aren’t bothering to watch. Give me a break and I might spill.”
“You must take me for a sap,” Marco said. “Now come along with me so I can take you and blind boy out at the same time.”
“About a foot to your right,” Craig said.
Marco had half a second to wonder what that meant before Sal’s fist crashed into the side of his head. It was a good effort, but Sal was just a little off, and Marco managed to stay on his feet. He whirled around, and had started to squeeze the trigger of his revolver when Craig cut him off with a bullet to the head.
“I heard him say he killed Benny,” Sal said as Craig climbed out of the ring.”
“Sorry, kid. He wasn’t lying. That’s Marco Greco you just slugged. Benny had evidence Greco killed Tom King, and was going to drop a dime on him.”
Craig was sure his version of the story would stick. Hughes already had Greco pegged for King’s murder, and wouldn’t look into it now that it had all been wrapped up nice and neat for him. There was no reason Sal needed to know Benny had borrowed his hands to kill a man.