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The Squeeze

As Arnold looked over his cards at the men he was playing with, a wry smile crossed his lips.  He couldn’t help it. These protégés of his were turning out to be great success stories.  He was going to be handing over his bootlegging business to Irving and Meyer to run, while Charlie, Frank and Lepke were busy with trying to organize a nationwide Syndicate.

                           “Call or raise?” Charlie inquired.

            “Raise you $20,” Arthur replied.

                           “Fold,” Frank muttered.

Meyer spoke up next.

                           “I think you’re bluffing,” he challenged.  “I’ll see your $20, and raise you twenty.”

                           “Call,” came the demand from Lepke.

                           “Fold,” grumped Irving.

Arnold laid his cards on the table.  A royal flush.  Everyone else at the table groaned.

                           “So, A.R.,” Irving turned to the winner of the hand.  “Are you ever going to tell us how you fixed the series, or what?” he prodded.

Arnold squeezed his eyes together and drew in his breath through his nose, holding it for a good long count before blowing it out of his mouth low and slow, in a carefully measured sigh.  He was SO tired of having to defend himself on this issue.

            “Oh, for Criminy’s sake, fellas,” he grimaced, rubbing at his temples.  “Let me say it in plain English, so that maybe you’ll finally understand, once and for all.”

He gave each one of them a piercing gaze, hoping to express his best “Don’t poke the bear” glare.

            “For the umpteenth time,” he continued.  “I had nothing whatsoever to do with half of the White Sox going rogue to throw the 1919 World Series!”

                           “Aw, c’mon Chief,” Charlie smirked.  “We’re all crooks here.  You can tell us!”

                           “It's not like we could repeat that feat, even if we wanted to,” Frank espoused, with what might have been taken as a minor note of melancholy.  “Now that the game has a commissioner.”

                           “What I want to know is,” Meyer chimed in.  “How you knew there was enough dissatisfaction in the clubhouse to pull that caper off?”  He head lilted to one side, like a curious bulldog.

            “Oy!” Arnold exclaimed, and rolled his eyes to the heavens, throwing his hands up, shaking them in mock despair. 

            “Alright, alright!,” he barked, righting his head to the room.  “If I give you wiseguys the inside skinny on what really happened,” he kept his tone low and conspirational, pushing his flat palms down to just above the tabletop in the universal pantomime to keep it quiet.  “Will you knuckleheads shaddap already and stop kvetching about this business??!”

                           “Yes, of course!” They all chorused at once, nodding and leaning in closer.

            “Okay then, try to keep up,” he began, holding up an index finger.  “And let me get though the whole spiel before I get any more chutzpah from you goyim.”

The all looked at one another in turn, each with a silent confirmation between them.  Irving made the “zipped lip” symbol, and Lepke threw an imaginary key over his shoulder.  Arnold accepted their compliance.

            “First — and I want to make this abundantly clear — I did not bet a single penny on that game.  The money I made was from booking receipts on the game.  Abe and Sport Sullivan came to me saying that they had a connection inside the White Sox organization that could assure throwing the World Series.  As you are all aware,” and here he checked the eyes of each man present, to make sure they were paying attention and following along.

            “I do not cheat,” he stressed, satisfied of their immersion in his accounting.  “It just isn’t kosher.  There’s simply no profit in it.  You get a reputation for shady deals, and then no one will place bets with you.”

He started shuffling the deck of cards in front of him.  The others sat listening intently, as mesmerized by the motion of the deck as they were with his story.

            “Now, as it turns out,” Arnold pressed on.  “. . . Sport was friends with the First Baseman, Gandil.  He went to Sport and asked if there would be a percentage in, oh, say, throwing the World Series.  Well, hearing that one of the players may be interested in throwing the game for the right amount, Sport came to me and asked if I would like to go in on it with him and help him buy off the players.”

Arnold finished the riffle and squared the deck, then set it in front of the place to his right, and tapped the top for the man seated there. 
While Arnold talked, Irving cut the deck into two halves.  

            “I said no, flat out.  I didnt want nothing to do with that.  The thought of paying someone off to win a bet is utterly ludicrous.  I mean, paying someone to take a dive is just throwing your money down the drainpipe.”

Arnold placed the half that had been on the bottom on top of the other half, and then started into an overhand shuffle for a few passes, then a Hindu shuffle for another few more.

            “As I’m sure you know, I don't mind using inside information to make a killing.  I’d bet none one of you could soon forget about the $300 large I made on Hourless back in ’17.  The jockey thought he had the fix on, until the trainer — being tipped off from me — changed jockeys, and there you have it.”

Satisfied with an even dispersement, the storyteller set the top card from the deck face down in front of the man to his left, and followed suit around the table with each of the others in a similar pattern, coming back around to himself, and continuing on past for another cycle.  Lepke, on his left, slid the second card set down on top of the other beneath it, neatly tidying the corners together.

            “The guys who paid off the jockey not only lost the bets, but were also out the money they paid the jockey, so over all, in the end, they got bupkis.”

Arnold lingered with a card hovering just above Frank’s pile.

            “Where was I . . . ” he paused mid-deal, scowling, and recounted the cards he’d given to each player. 

            “Oh, right,” he nodded, apparently having regained the right number, and passed out the remainder of the hand to the men at table. “The player on the White Sox team,” he reminded himself. 

             “Now, with only one player asking about fixing a series, there wasn’t even any point in discussing it.  After all, it takes nine to play the game, and I told Sport as much.  A week later, when Abe came to see me, he had gotten eight players to agree to throw the whole shebang.  Of course, I still said no.  Even then, all of the necessary relevant elements couldn’t be certain to be in play.  There was no way to guarantee that both pitchers who agreed to throw the match would even pitch.  How was I supposed to know that Faber would get the flu and not be available to step up to the plate?”

At this, Arnold’s face clouded over briefly, but he shook off some random unspoken thought and went on.

            “Anyways,” he resumed.  “It still wasnt decent enough odds for me to go in on the fix.  That, however, didnt stop Abe Attel from telling the players that I had agreed, and was bankrolling the venture.  So, with my supposed ‘blessing,’ apparently, half the players of the 1919 World Series then went ahead and proceeded to throw the whole game in the Big Show.”

He paused for effect, and took stock of his audience.   Their expressions were blank.  One or two had cut their eyes to the corner of the room, and there were a couple of pursed lips.  Clearly, they were all still processing.

            “And,” Arnold emphasized, dramatically, slamming down the last card dealt on top his own pile.  Frank jumped, startled.

               “. . . e
ven with that, it didn’t go off without a glitch.  Cicotte, that schmuck, nearly still screwed everything up for Abe and Sport by pitching lights out in the 7th game, after which they had to threaten his family in order to get him to throw the rest of the games.”

Some of the heads present were nodding in remembrance, their brows furrowed.

            “And that is also why I never fix anything.  People change their minds and then you get fakakta.”

He gathered the cards from the table in front of him, leaning back, holding them up to his face, curved inward, away from prying eyes, and began reordering them into a sensible hand.

            “Like I told you all before,” Arnold peered over his cards, staring down hard at each of the men around the table, narrowing his eyes as he spoke.  “This was a one-shot deal, capicheI am never going to speak about my fictional role in this fix again, so, if we’re going to continue this game this evening, that’s going to be the last I’m going to hear about it..

He searched each face for signs of contrition, but no one was willing to be the first to speak.  Arnold’s nostrils flared, and his head began to shake.

             “You meshugeners
keep this kibbutzing up all night, you’re gonna make me plotz, and then I’ll have to throw you all out on your respective tuchases,” he bellowed.

Arnold’s voice had been picking up steam throughout his previous few statements, the volume increasing, and the level finally rising nearly an octave before he finished the last bit, as the collected crowd were attemping to stifle a smattering of snickers rumbling around the room.  They all knew Arnold only brought out that much Yiddish when he really meant it.

            “So . . .  ” he recovered, wiping his brow and ignoring their titters.  “Do we have a deal, or what?”

                           “Deal!,” Meyer enthusiastically agreed, picking up his cards, while the others all nodded their approval.  “I’m not ready to go home to the Missus just yet,” the banker added, with a twinkle in his eye.

And so, as the gaggle of gangsters gathered up their cards, another round began
in the Upper East Side of Manhattan on a clear spring evening, 1926.

For your historical reference, a little biographical information on the characters and
background of this story:

Arnold Rothstein — 1920's Gambler, Loan Shark, and Bootlegger.  Was the Mentor for many Gangsters of the era, and helped a lot of them get their starts in either bootlegging, gambling, or Loan Sharking.

Irving “Waxey” Gordon — Prolific Bootlegger and Gambler of the 1920's.  Partner of Arnold Rothstein

Meyer Lanksy – Helped Charlie “Lucky” Luciano setup the national crime syndicate and was considered to be the financier for the mob.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano – The head of the National Syndicate, and founder of the modern American Mafia.

Frank Costello — Political fixer.  Friend to Charlie and Meyer; took control of the Mafia while Lucky was incarcerated.

Louis “Lepke” Buchalter —  Head of Murder, Inc., the Mafia’s team of hired hit men.



Oct. 4th, 2014 03:58 am (UTC)
This is very educational. I wouldn't have known to have guessed that it would be, but you've managed to work a lot of detail about what happened into a man who wasn't responsible defending himself against accusations of being involved in pulling off a crime he didn't commit. That takes some mad skillz, dude!
Oct. 7th, 2014 12:17 am (UTC)
Thank, I felt the prompt fitted this scandal fairly well.


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