Authors: Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins
MOURN THE LIVING
Perfect Crime Books
HUSH MONEY. Copyright © 1981, 2012 by Max Allan Collins. Introduction © 2012 by Max Allan Collins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored by any means without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Dominick Abel Literary Agency Inc., 146 West 82
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Cover by Christopher Mills.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters and institutions are products of the Author’s imagination and do not refer to actual persons or institutions.
Perfect Crime Books Trade Paperback Edition
Kindle Edition July 2012
This is for CWO2 John W. McRae,
pride of the USMC, who was there.
A thief is anybody who gets out and works for his living, like robbing a bank, or breaking into a place and stealing stuff. . . . He really gives some effort to it. A hoodlum is a pretty lousy kind of scum. He works for gangsters and bumps off guys after they've been put on the spot. Why, after I'd made my rep, some of the Chicago Syndicate wanted me to go to work for them as a hood—you know, handling a machine gun. They offered me two hundred and fifty dollars a week and all the protection I needed. I was on the lam at the time, and not able to work at my regular line. But I wouldn't consider it. 'Tm a thief," I said, "I'm no lousy hoodlum."
—Alvin Karpis, in 1936 conversation with J. Edgar Hoover, who didn't understand.
, the fourth Nolan novel, is among the four in the series that were written in the early ’70s but not published till the early ’80s. Curtis Books, a lower-end paperback publisher despite its supposed relationship to the fabled
Saturday Evening Post
, got itself absorbed by Popular Library, and those four Nolan novels (and the first two Mallorys) went into that dreaded publishing limbo called inventory.
My agent received periodic assurances that the books would be published, but that never happened–editors prefer to publish books they’ve discovered and bought themselves, not something that’s a remainder from the overstock of some failed publishing house their firm swallowed up. Finally, however, the rights came back to us, and Pinnacle Books even ordered up a new novel (
). I don’t believe I’ve ever had a six-book contract since.
I performed some minor rewriting on the first two, already published books (
) and did some updating where necessary, in particular the skyjacking novel,
came out in a spiffy, pulpy new Pinnacle edition and sold very well. Things were looking up.
The irony of
is that it touches upon the reason that Pinnacle wanted six books out of me and–had the future gone in the fashion it portended–probably would have wanted three to six a year thereafter. Pinnacle had recently lost its signature crime series, the Executioner, a break-up between publisher and author (Don Pendleton) that was as awash in bad blood, as, well . . . an Executioner novel.
I had read a few Executioner novels, because early on they were a sort of updating of Mike Hammer, the creation of my literary “ideel” (as Li’l Abner would put it), Mickey Spillane. But they weren’t my style–just too overtly pulp and over-the-top for my refined tastes. I was more a Richard Stark guy now, and of course the Nolan series was in that tradition. Some call the Nolans a pastiche of Stark’s Parker novels, and there are overt influences–in particular, the strict point-of-view and switching back and forth between those points of view.
But I was at least as influenced by the Sand novels by an obscure author of ’60s softcore porn, Ennis Willie. Willie didn’t write softcore porn, but his publisher sold him that way. Really, the Sand novels were a skillful, unlikely melding of Spillane and W. R. Burnett, and for my money were far superior to Pendleton and his eventual ragtag army of imitators (a few exceptions there, particularly the Destroyer). Ennis Willie was an enigma in crime fiction fan circles for decades, until turning up a few years ago–two volumes of vintage Sand material are now available from Ramble House with introductions by me.
I had written my first Nolan–
Mourn the Living
, a book that didn’t get published till many years later–in 1967, before the Executioner came along in 1969. The first Nolan novel to be published,
, got its first draft in 1968.
was just my way of showing what would happen to the Executioner in my world–Nolan’s world which is to say, nothing like Pendleton’s. Not that was there anything mean-spirited about it–it was just my darkly satirical take on what was then a newly minted, very popular series.
, remember, was written around 1974 or ’75.
I have no idea whether Pendleton was offended by
, when it was published in 1981. But he was offended overall by Nolan, which he said was “a silly syllable away from Bolan,” his character. Ironically, Nolan had initially been called Cord (in
), which was changed to Logan in
; but because a long-forgotten paperback series had a hero called Logan around the time I was first sending
out to publishers, I changed the name to Nolan.
So there was nothing intentional about Nolan/Bolan. The packaging of the novels was similar, but all the series Pinnacle was publishing in that genre were similar. Nolan’s save-his-ass “war” with the Chicago mob was nothing like Bolan’s holy one. Nolan’s world was violent but in a less cartoony fashion than that of the Executioner.
Nonetheless, Pendleton threatened a lawsuit (there was already a lawsuit on other issues between him and his erstwhile publisher), and despite impressive sales figures, the Nolan series was cancelled. The last two books on the contract (
) even had his name stripped from the covers.
Later, I exchanged letters with Pendleton and made it clear I had not imitated him–that in fact, the Nolan character pre-dated Bolan. He was apologetic and very nice about it, but it was too late. Nolan was really dead this time.
Of course, I later got to revive him for a single novel,
But that’s another story.
Max Allan Collins
One: Thursday Afternoon
ONE OF THE TWO MEN
approaching the golf tee was being studied in the crosshairs of an assassin’s sniperscope. The two men were riding in a red and mostly white golf cart that was putt-putting across the brown grass toward the first tee of the back nine. One of them would soon fold in half as a .460 Magnum blew his intestines and much of his spine and a good deal of blood out of the back of him. But that would not happen immediately. The man in the assassin’s crosshairs had almost five minutes to live.
The driver was a tall man, well over six feet and in obvious good shape, a man with smooth, seemingly unused and handsome features that gave him the look of a twenty-five-year-old when he was in fact forty. His hair was brown and wavy, no gray, his chin deep-dimpled, cheeks too, eyes the color of Paul Newman’s. The passenger was of medium height and build, with a sagging middle that helped to make him look every one of his fifty-four years. His face was spade-shaped, deeply lined, and his brown hair was thinning on top, getting white at the temples. Wire frame glasses nestled on the bridge of a slightly bulbous nose and magnified his colorless gray eyes.
Their cart ascended the slope of the mound from which they’d begin their second nine. They got out of the cart.
They were men as strikingly different in appearance as in background. The smaller man, the one in the more conservative attire—gray golf sweater, light blue Banlon shirt, gray slacks—was Carl H. Reed, former minority leader of the Iowa state legislature, recently retired from that position, recently appointed state highway commissioner. The big man, in the bright red sweater with dyed leather trim, deep blue Banlon shirt and white slacks, the tanned blue-eyed man who had the bearing of a professional athlete, was Joseph P. DiPreta, youngest of the three DiPreta brothers and perhaps foremost amateur golfer in the state, one of the best amateur golfers in the nation.
Excluding the sniper, who lay some distance away in the rough, the two men had the course to themselves on this cool and overcast autumn afternoon. It was late enough in the month—October—for even the most diehard of golf addicts to have hung up their shoes and stowed away their clubs for the season; but Joey DiPreta was more dedicated to the game than most and often played well into November, weather permitting. Today, however, Joey had other reasons for going out on the course: business reasons. Getting in a round or two of golf was a decidedly secondary concern; far more important to get Carl Reed out here on the course this afternoon, alone.
Carl Reed was delighted, almost honored, to have been invited to share an afternoon of golf with Des Moines’ most colorful and celebrated amateur athlete. Carl was a sports nut who took an interest in everything from the World Series and the Super Bowl to log-rolling contests and pro wrestling. He admired and came close to envying guys who pursued athletics as a way of life, and he could especially identify with a Joey DiPreta, since golf, of all sports, meant most to Carl. Golf was the game that let him come down out of the bleachers and onto the playing field, a game that got his mind off the pressures of politics and business. Not that golf was merely a pastime for Carl, an escape valve he could turn when psychological steam built up inside him. No. He was, in his way, as dedicated to the game as was Joey DiPreta.
Carl was aware, of course, of the DiPreta family’s less than wholesome reputation. Their present-day interests, which included a construction company and a Midwestern chain of discount stores, among many others, were not so much in question as were the origins of the DiPreta wealth, which, according to rumor, dated back to the days of bootlegging and worse. As a kid he’d heard stories of the DiPretas and protection rackets and loan-sharking. During the war the name DiPreta always seemed to come up when the black market was being discussed. Some said they had never totally severed their ties with organized crime, and just last year there had been accusations of stock swindle leveled at Vincent DiPreta, Joey’s eldest brother. Nevertheless, Carl had lived in the Des Moines area all his life, holding for over twenty years positions of financial and political responsibility and, yes, power; and in all that time he’d seen no hard evidence to substantiate allegations relative to the DiPretas being a Mafia-style crime family. Nothing at all to turn ugly rumor into ugly fact.
Still, Carl was sensitive to its being a somewhat risky proposition for him to have contact with even a possible mob associate. He’d fought long and hard to build and then maintain a good name in a field that had become more and more tainted in recent years. It was with considerable sadness that he’d come to hear his own college-age children using the word “politician” as if it were spelled with four letters.
Joey could sense the other man’s uneasiness, had sensed it immediately on meeting Carl at the clubhouse. For that reason he’d cooled it on the first nine, not even hinting at the real purpose of the afternoon, just breaking the ice with the guy, whose nervousness, Joey soon decided, must have come from rubbing shoulders with a local super-star. Joey took advantage of Carl’s admiration, using it as an excuse to get overly chummy, to try to become an instant close friend of Carl’s. It seemed to be working.
Funny thing is
, Joey thought, watching the skinny but potbellied Carl select a wood,
that awkward looking son of a bitch shoots a pretty fair game
. The afternoon had been damn near an even match, and Joey was maybe going to get beaten. And he surely wasn’t doing that on purpose. He wanted to win the clown over, but he wasn’t about to throw the match for it—some things were just against Joey’s principles.
Carl shoved a wooden tee into the hard ground, and Joey said, “Whoa! Hey, hold on a second. How about we catch our breath a minute, Carl? Got some beer in a little cooler in back of the cart. What do you say?”
Carl hadn’t wanted to admit being winded, but he sure was, and a beer sounded good. He’s been playing hard, and though he knew he was outclassed, he’d somehow been managing to hold his own; he hoped Joey hadn’t been just going easy on him. He told Joey a beer was fine with him and Joey went and got the beer and they sat in the cart for a while and drank and talked. Joey complimented Carl on holing out on the last green, said that was really some show of putting, and Carl said thanks, his luck was running good today.
“Luck, my ass,” Joey said. “That was a hell of a round you just shot, my friend.”
“I guess you must’ve inspired me,” Carl said with a grin.
Joey, who was grinning too, his teeth as white as fresh white paint. “Don’t you politicians ever let up laying on the bullshit?”
“No, I mean it, Joey. This is really a pleasure, playing with someone of your standing. I can’t tell you how I appreciate your inviting me to join you this afternoon.”
“You think it’s easy finding somebody else crazy enough to want to come out in the dead of winter and knock a little white ball around the ground?”
“Now who’s laying on the bullshit?” Carl swigged his beer. “Look, I saw you on TV last year, when the guy at KRNT interviewed you. He asked you why you played so late in the season, after most of us’ve given up the ghost, and you said—”
“And I said I liked having the course to myself, because I could concentrate better. Well, that’s true, I guess, but a guy’s got to have
friends, right? Can’t be a goddamn hermit all the time. Tell you the truth, though, Carl, I did have sort of an ulterior motive for getting together with you.”
Joey noticed the crow’s-feet pulling in tight around Carl’s eyes.
, Joey thought,
don’t blow it now
. “Yeah, well, I mean I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time. Admired you, you know? You got quite a reputation yourself.”
“Come on now, Joey.”
“No, really. I’m a Democrat too, you know. That’s pretty rare around these parts.” Joey forced a laugh, and Carl laughed a little, too. But just a little. Joey had a sinking feeling. He’d appraised Carl Reed as a pushover, a mark, judging from the hero-worshipping attitude the man had displayed earlier; but now Joey had his doubts about being able to pull this thing off, and he just had to. It wasn’t that often his brothers entrusted him with something this important; it wasn’t that often he helped out with business at all. Damn.
“Joey, if you have something on your mind . . .”
“Hey, remember that junket to Vegas last year? We had some kind of good time on that one, huh?”
Carl nodded. He’d first met Joey DiPreta on that trip, had spoken to him casually on the plane, talked about golf, sports in general.
“That wasn’t your first Vegas hop, was it, Carl?”
“No, it wasn’t. I went a couple other times. What’s your point, Joey?”
The junket was a weekend trip to Las Vegas that Carl and many others in his social circle—doctors, lawyers, executives—had gone on every year now three years running; it was a husband and wife affair, $1500 for the whole trip for both, including hotel room and plane fare and five hundred dollars in casino chips.
“I don’t think you were aware of it at the time, Carl, but my family owns the travel agency that sponsored that junket—in fact all the junkets you’ve been on. Just one of a number of gambling trips we sponsor. To Vegas, the Caribbean, England.”
Carl shrugged, sipped his beer, wondered where this conversation was going and said, “Joey, you’re right . . . I wasn’t aware your family owned that travel agency. But I’m not particularly surprised, either. I’m aware the DiPreta interests extend to many areas.”
“That’s for sure, Carl. We got lots of interests. We own a sand and gravel company, for instance. And a construction firm. And some other businesses that you might run into now and then, Carl, in your position as state highway commissioner.”
Carl Reed leaned forward and looked at Joey DiPreta straight on. The eyes behind the wire frame glasses were as hard and cold as any Joey had seen. Carl spoke through his teeth: “Wait just one moment, Mr. DiPreta, while I make something clear to you . . .”
“Hold on, hold on, hold on. I know what you’re thinking.”
“Do you? Then I see no reason to continue this discussion.”
“I know what you’re thinking and I’m not going to suggest anything of the kind. We know you. We know all about you, what sort of man you are. I said I knew your reputation, remember? You’re a man of character, with a name like goddamn sterling silver. So we aren’t about to suggest anything, uh, out of line to you. No. No under-the-table stuff. No kickbacks. Nothing. We’ll bid for jobs, sure, but if our bid isn’t lowest and best, to hell with us.”
“Then what’s this about?”
Joey lifted his hands palms out in a you-know-how-it-is gesture. “Some people aren’t as incorruptible as you, Carl. Your predecessor, for example.”
“We had dealings with him. A lot of dealings. I guess you could call them extra-legal dealings. You see, it was a family thing. Mr. Grayson, your predecessor, was married to a cousin of ours and, well, a thing worked out where he sent some business our way and we kicked back some money to him.”
“Why in God’s name are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re going to find out anyway. You’re going to know. When you get settled down in Grayson’s chair and start examining his records, and then in about a year when those roads we laid down start cracking up like plaster of Paris, you’re going to know what was going on all right.”
“And I’m going to have the makings of a large-scale political scandal. Not to mention possible indictments against members of the DiPreta family.”
“Not to mention that.”
“Well. Thank you for the nine holes, Joey.” Carl rose. “And thank you for the information.”
“Sit down, Carl,” Joey said, pulling him back down to the cart seat with some force, though his voice stayed friendly and pleasant. “I’ll get you another beer.”