Part 6: “Breakfast With the Champion”
At about 7:30 Saturday morning I was awoken by a pounding on my door. To be honest I think it may have been more of a rap than a pound, but to my savagely hungover head, it was definitely a pound and it went on incessantly for a few minutes while I did my best to ignore it.
“Frankie it’s Andy. Get your hand off of your dick and answer the door.”
He had such a way with words.
I found my feet, and just barely managed to overcome the wave of nausea that accompanied the act. Apparently I had drooled in my sleep, as the right side of my face was damp, and my mouth tasted like the neighbor’s cat had snuck in and used it for a litter box. I was about to swear off booze for good, but then I remembered the last three times that I had done that. (What can I say? Sometimes I just am not good at sticking with things.) Instead I admonished myself silently for my stupidity and went with “just make it through the day.”
I opened the door, and as Andy’s huge frame filled it, I saw that he was smiling. He looked fresh as a rose, and save for a crooked nose and a slight blackening under his eyes, no worse for wear. Sometimes I am jealous of drunks. Their ability to pull off a bender and seem as though nothing happened is remarkable, while I on the other hand usually need two days to sleep off an aspirin.
“You look like shit.” Andy chuckled.
“Thanks. Wish I felt that good.” There was no point in trying to be manly now, Andy knew that I was no hard drinker. “Why are you here so early?”
“Mr. Doyle has some stuff that needs doing this morning. Got to be at the docks at nine. I talked to him about you though, and he has someone he wants you to meet. Guy’ll meet us as Ray’s for breakfast. Get your coat man, we are already late.”
The mention of Ray’s made my stomach turn. The thought of the smell of fried eggs and greasy sausage was too much. I bolted for the sink.
Andy was doubled over with laughter. “Hey now you will have room for pancakes too! Try putting a little whiskey in the maple syrup! If you ask real nice they might even give you some bacon grease to dip your toast in!”
That triggered another round of retching. I remember thinking. “Dear Christ, if I am wrong and you do exist, just kill me now.” Which is, of course, the universal response to a night of overindulgence.
I realized in those moments why I had hated Andy for most of my life. Allies or not, he loved dwelling on the misfortune of others. We might have had a few laughs the night before, and I might have put myself in jeopardy with the law to save his skin, but now my stomach was reminding me of the loathing for him that I was accustomed to. There is nothing that I hate more than a bully.
I rinsed my mouth with some of the brackish water from the tap and grabbed my coat. My hat had vanished over the course of last night’s adventure, and I cursed to myself. I guess I will have to buy a new one and chalk it up on the “plus expenses” list. Maybe some new pants too; mine had a tear in the knee from scuffling around in the alleyway.
Andy was still laughing as we hit the street and walked toward Ray’s. I was in a dismal mood, and his chuckling did nothing to alleviate it. “Who are we meeting anyway? Doyle?” I was pretty sure he had said that Doyle had someone he wanted me to meet, but to be honest, my head was fuzzy from the hooch and I couldn’t quite remember.
“Naw man, Doyle wouldn’t go to Ray’s! Man’s got a reputation to uphold, plus he has no reason to meet you right now. No money in it for him at the moment. He wants you to meet Tommy.”
“Tommy ‘Youllseewhenwefuckinggetthere’. Stop asking so many questions. It’s irritating.”
We walked in silence the rest of the way. The camaraderie from the previous night had dissipated and the old animosity was creeping back in. I was glad Andy had stiff to do in a few hours. I didn’t't know how much longer I could take him.
We walked into Ray’s just at the time of day when the sun shows you how it is going to be. It was bright and warm and the birds were singing, and I realized that if I had to be awake, I would have much preferred sitting in a park somewhere with a pencil and a notebook over what I was presently up to. Andy nodded to someone and we made our way to a corner table. I sat down across from a good-looking, athletic, well-dressed, Irish-looking guy that I had to assume was Tommy.
He nodded at Andy who grunted a response. It was clear that Tommy was Andy’s superior, and that there was some bad blood between them. I assumed that Andy had a lot of those types of relationships in his life. He was that easy to dislike.
Tommy stood from the table, and reached his hand out to shake mine. Classy move. I followed suit.
“Tommy DuPont. Pleased to meet you.” His grip was like a pneumatic vice. I was pretty sure he had broken every bone in my birdlike, tiny hand.
“Frankie Irving. Pleasure is all mine.” My name was actually Irving Frank, but I swapped them around as soon as I learned to speak. You don’t get many ladies by being an “Irv”.
“I wasn’t expecting someone who messed up Andy’s face to be quite so…slight.”
They always notice that I am a small guy. It is so infuriating.
“I have a few tricks to use when needed. I wasn’t expecting a guy who looks like his parents just got off the boat from Limerick to have a frog’s last name.”
Tommy laughed and beckoned me to sit. “I’m as Irish as it gets, but my grandparents moved to Quebec rather than Boston. When my granddad ran for office up there he realized that the Frenchies would never elect an Irishman, so he changed his last name. Somehow it worked, accent and all.”
I found the story interesting, and realized that I was already taking a liking to Tommy. There was something about him that I couldn’t put my finger on though. Not knowing how else to approach it, I decided to just ask. He seemed like a straight-shooter.
“You seem really familiar to me. Have we met?” I cringed when I realized that I had tried to use that line to pick up a woman a few months ago. It had failed.
“I don’t think so. You might have seen my poster around though. I’m a fighter.”
“Of course! You are Tommy “The Ripper” Rooney! You fought “Battling” Jack Francis for the middleweight belt last month and absolutely destroyed him! I can’t believe I am having breakfast with you!”
“Actually we aren’t having breakfast. The waitress here is awful. At least she has a nice rear end.” He turned in his seat, and politely flagged the waitress down with a “Miss, I know you are very busy but my friends and I are pressed for time. May we order?” His smile was genuine, good-natured, and immediately received.
“Sure thing, let me just bring this over to that table and I will be right back.” She was already smiling too. I was watching a master at work.
Andy grunted. Tommy’s head snapped towards him, and the smile was replaced by a hard stare. “Don’t you have some errands to run this morning Andy?” Why are you still here?”
For the first time ever, I saw Andy stammer. “I…I was hungry. I thought…”
“Don’t bother thinking. You aren’t any good at it. Do what Doyle told you and get down to the docks. I have to chat with Frankie here.”
Andy’s face reddened, but he followed his orders. He walked out without looking at us, and I could feel his rage. Someone was going to have a very bad day today at the end of his fist. I almost felt bad for the poor bastard.
The waitress returned, and Tommy ordered three eggs (over easy), two slices of wheat toast with peanut butter, a ham steak, oatmeal, coffee, orange juice, and a banana. Apparently it takes a lot of fuel to be the champ. I ordered a cup of black coffee and a donut. My stomach still wasn’t feeling up to snuff, and the upside of a life spent not exercising is a decrease in caloric needs.
The waitress (Annie, 23, who lives over in Sunnyville, has a dog named Rufus, and has no plans Friday night- all information gleaned by Tommy over the course of a breakfast order) sauntered back to the kitchen with our order, and Tommy turned back to me.
“She’s a good girl…So, I heard that you saved Andy from the law last night. Not sure why you would do that, he is a complete ass, but Mr. Doyle is appreciative nonetheless. He wants me to give you this as his way of saying thanks.”
He slid an envelope across the table. I opened it, astounded to find two hundred and fifty dollars and a set of ringside tickets for Tommy’s next fight inside.
“He is a generous man,” Tommy said with a smile, “which is also why you are still walking after asking a lot of questions about him yesterday. From here on, if you want to know anything about Mr. Doyle you ask me. If I won’t tell you, it is none of your business. If you ask further, I get a new sparring partner. Are we clear?”
“Yeah. Look, tell Doyle I don’t want any trouble. A woman came in to my office and offered me a bunch of money to write an article about him being a gangster. I was broke, so I took the job. I was doing research to find out if it was true though, I don’t want to drag his name through the mud if it isn’t.”
Tommy grinned. “I know that. And it is true. He is a gangster, and proud of it. He doesn’t care who knows. He makes his money partly on the shady side, and reinvests it into the community. That dame that gave you the job? She works for us, or used to. Getting you in was her way out. Mr. Doyle is your benefactor.”
“What? Why would he hire me to rat himself out? That doesn’t make sense.”
“Look, he knows about your history with most of his guys, he knows that you try to stay on the right side of society, and that you are a lonely little man that is a sucker for the ladies. You wouldn’t have taken the gig if he had sent a ganged-up minion to your office, broke or not. You can be a stubborn bastard Frankie, and Mr. Doyle knows this too.”
Our food had come, and Annie had slipped Tommy her phone number whilst she put down the plates. He nodded and smiled. When she left, as if reading my mind he said “No, I am not going to call her. My wife wouldn’t really appreciate that.”
“So what does Doyle want from me then? It obviously isn’t for me to ruin his reputation.”
“He wants you to help him take down a former partner turned pain in his ass, Grinner Rasche, the German.”
“Grinner? The editor of the Gazetteer? Why?”
“Because he is planning to blow up city hall during the next council meeting. The man has gone off of the deep end. If he pulls it off, a new group of elected officials may not be so friendly with Mr. Doyle. We can’t allow that.”
Half of a donut in, and I had lost my appetite again. Yesterday I was writing horoscopes and obituaries. Now I was a tool being used by a mob boss to take down a crazed would-be assassin. The worst part is that I only had one question on my mind:
“Ok then. I’m in. By the way, if you aren’t going to use it, can I have Annie’s number? I’ve been coming here for six months trying to get it.”
The Champ shook his head and slid me the paper.