he grabs a cab to the east side, hoping to find something before it is too late.
a stop at the late packy miller's flower shop is a dead end....
but a dropped matchbook points to the lair of the mysterious chuck borgia...
“hey, has anybody seen chuck borgia? chuck borgia, from chicago?”
every year there was a “big fight”, somewhere on earth, usually in some place like stalingrad or johannesburg or montivideo. and the biggest hoods and gangsters from all over the world came to see it and each other and make deals and have a good time.
although there was no official “truce”, it was understood that peace prevailed and that out and out warfare and gunplay were off limits, until the gathering broke up and everybody went back to their own territory.
and usually everybody showed up. it was considered rude not to.
so when tommy the toad, from syracuse, asked muskrat phil geronimo, from palermo, and eddie chang, from macao, as the trio sat in lulu johnson’s lounge in stalingrad, if anybody had seen chuck borgia, he did not get much of a response.
“he’s got to be around here somewhere,” said phil.
“sure,” added eddie, “after all, it’s his local kid who’s fighting. he’s probably being asked a million questions about him.”
“yeah, “ tommy the toad retorted, “but the kid ain’t his. it’s the other chicago guy’s - packy miller - “
“packy miller got bumped off,” said phil. “it’s the new guy - red somebody.”
tommy shrugged. “packy - red - it don’t make no never mind. i still think it’s a bit suspicious that nobody’s seen chuck borgia, that’s all.”
just then sally bronson, jerry the jumper from warsaw’s moll, happened to pass by the trio’s table.
“chuck borgia? i could not help but overhear you gentleman’s conversation. well, i got it on good authority that chuck borgia will not be in attendance - hometown boy or no hometown boy.”
“oh?” eddie responded politely, “and where did you hear that?”
“i told you - on good authority.” sally stuck her nose in the air. “if you don’t believe me, ask jerry the jumper or king mazonka.”
tommy, phil, and eddie watched sally sashay away.
they fell into a thoughtful reverie.
tommy took a sip of his bourbon and water. “he must have a good reason,” he said.
“oh yeah,” phil retorted. “he’s got a good reason, all right. a five letter word reason - a five letter word beginning with “a”.
“alibi,” eddie explained unnecessarily.
tommy shrugged. “if he’s going to bump somebody off, it’s got to be this red guy from chicago. i don’t think we got anything to worry about.”
“red fuller,” eddie said. “i think red fuller can probably take care of himself.”
“no doubt he can,” repled phil. “but that ain’t the point. it shows a certain - a certain lack of character. and it ain’t right.”
“no, it ain’t ,” tommy agreed.
“it violates the spirit of the occasion.” phil warmed to his theme. “everybody is here to have a good time. who wants to have a gun go off in their ear, or get somebody’s blood or brains all over their nice new suit that they bought especially for the occasion?”
“you might as well not even have a big fight,” eddie added.
tommy finished his bourbon and water. “ah, forget it. let’s have another drink. this round’s mine.”
“the guys will be extra alert, red. you can count on it.”
“extra? extra compared to what? they weren’t alert before? what are they there for, if they ain’t alert?”
“come on red, don’t talk like some lawyer. you know what i mean.” charlie “the cowboy” callahan looked around the suite red fuller had booked on the top floor of the stalingrad ambassador hotel, where a quick confab of red’s boys had been called.
“do i? ” red asked.
“we’ve always backed you up before, haven’t we?” charlie asked, raising his eyebrows. what he didn’t have to say - what everybody in the room understood was - “we backed you against packy miller, didn’t we?”
red just grunted in reply. he poured himself some more vodka from the bottle in his hand.
“it’s lucky,” charlie continued in a more relaxed tone, “that we’re here on the top floor. we don’t have as many exits to cover.”
“lucky? what’s lucky about it? you think i was going to be someplace besides on the top floor? wherever i go? where else would i be?”
charlie laughed. “sure. what was i thinking?”
“and besides,” red continued, “ we are not going to stay cooped up in here. we got to make the rounds, show our faces, just like nothing is happening.”
“of course, red, of course.”
red turned to “chicago jimmy” kelly, the young fighter, who was sitting by himself in a corner, wearing the sharpest suit in the room.
“how about you, kid? what do you think about all this?”
the kid punched the air a few times. “i’m just going to fight my fight, red. what else can i do?”
“that’s right. you guys hear that? the kid’s got the right attitude. you should all have that attitude.”
“look here,” put in “doc” polanski, who had been sitting down doing a crossword puzzle, “you know chuck borgia isn’t doing himself any favors with this nonsense. nobody - and i mean nobody - is saying anything good about him, all on account of this.”
“that’s right,” added willie “the weeper” wattleback, “solly solomon, from the east side of london, has been particularly vocal in his displeasure. and so has the big frenchman. ”
“that’s great,” red agreed. “just great. that and ten kopecks will get me a cup of the lousy russian coffee they got in this hotel.”
“you don’t like the coffee, red,” charlie told him, “drink the vodka.”
“that’s what i been doing,” red answered. he put the bottle down on a table. “but it’s time to move out. move out and mingle. let’s go.”
back in chicago, terry pulled the cab up in front of borgia’s fine food and drink emporium on the north side.
she was able to pull right up to the front door as there were no other cars parked on the street.
nor were there any people outside on the street.
“looks pretty quiet,” said jerry.
“that’s right,” said terry. “i should have thought of that. chuck and his boys are probably at the big fight just like red and his boys.
in fact they are all probably sitting around having cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres together even as we sit here.”
“but the lights are on,” jerry said. “is it open?”
“oh yeah, it’s probably open.”
“we're here, we might as well go inside.” jerry opened his door. “i mean, i’m going in, you don’t have to.”
“i’ll go in with you. i got nothing better to do.”