Sunday, June 04, 2017
An Encore -Eddie Daley’s Big Score –With Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s The Sting In Mind
An Encore -Eddie Daley’s Big Score –With Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s The Sting In Mind
A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Eddie Daley, Edward James Daley, to the 1940s slapdash Dorchester triple-decker tenements within earshot of the rattling Redline subway born, dreamed, dreamed big dreams, ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper as the old time used-up now corny expression had it, of making the big score, making easy street, and in the process leaving behind a legend that guys, corner boy guys and grifters would talk about long after he was gone. Talk about in reverent hushed whispers about the guy, Eddie Daley, thereafter to be dubbed the “king of the grifters” who pulled the biggest con that there ever was, and walked away from it free as a bird. Not all big scores, cons, even if consummated, had that final part, that walk away free part, just ask the shade of Frankie Finn who pulled the big Shiloh Fur scam worth two million easy (a lot of money back in the 1950s even when split four ways and a fifth cut for the fence plus his expenses although that sum just walking around money today), pulled it off with just four guys, a good number for the haul, but who “forgot” that he was dealing with one “Rocket Kid,” Johnny Silver, in his entourage who after the heist put two between the eyes of his three confederates, figuring one is easier to count than four no matter than two of the guys were his long time corner boys. The Rocket Kid, Johnny, was subsequently “hit” by one of Buddy Boyle’s boys, everybody though Rolling Rex Buddy’s main contract man did the deed since he had not been seen around for a while, when he tried to fence the stuff since Buddy was the front money man on that caper and Frankie Finn’s cousin to boot. Buddy already rolling in dough had his own way of figuring one is easier to count when he was the one. So that walking away free part was no small part of the leaving a legend behind scenario.
Eddie’s dream might seem strange to the squares, to those who live life on the square, wake up and do the nine to five bit, or whatever the time bit these days with flexible hours, take two weeks’ vacation in Maine in the summer, raise and put three kids through college at great expense and get a gold watch or a pat on the back when they are turned out to pasture. Yeah, that dream definitely might seem odd to those who have never been from hunger, not just “wants” hunger like a million guys have, maybe more, but no food on the table hunger when the old man drank away the week’s paycheck at the Dublin Grille or hand-me-down clothes from older brothers in style or not hunger that ate deeply into every way that Eddie thought about things from very early on. Those who never worried about big scores, or cons since they had it coming in whatever they had to put out in expenses would never figure Eddie’s dreams out.
See Eddie was a what they called, called back in the old days, back in the 1930s, and still called them back in Eddie’s coming of age time in the 1960s when he came of age in that Dorchester section of Boston where he triple decker tenement grew up a natural-born grifter. When Eddie first heard that word used, strangely after he had already done his first con and somebody on the corner, that hang out corner being Mel’s Variety on Neponset Avenue near the Fields Corner subway stop, called him a born “grifter” he faked it and said yeah and then next day went to the library and looked it up in the dictionary and came up with this-“A grifter is someone who swindles you through deception or fraud. Synonyms include fraudster, con artist, cheater, confidence man, scammer, hustler, swindler, etc.”
Eddie smiled the smile of the just on that one. Yeah, a grifter, is a guy like him who figured some angles, any angles, a guy who did this and that, did the best he could without working some nine to five hump job. [Here is a practical corner boy, not Mel’s but Jack Slack’s bowling alleys corner down in Carver about thirty miles south of Dorchester but still in “from hunger” land definition- “A grifter to fill in the gaps for the unknowing and clueless was a guy, sometimes a dame, although usually where there was a dame involved she was a roper especially if the mark was hopped up on some sex thing, who spent his eternal life figuring how to go from point A to point B, and point A was wanting dough and point B was getting it by any means necessary but mainly by stealth. By the way do not discount women in the grifter society one of the best who ever lived was a gal who went by the name Delores Del Rio, named herself after the 1940s movie star, who took some duke over in Europe for a cool two million in jewelry after she got him all jammed up and picked him clean leaving him with some fake jewels worth about six dollars in Woolworth’s, beautiful.]
So Eddie started figuring the angles very early on, very early on indeed and would regale, if that is the right word for it, the corner boys in front of Mel’s Variety Store on Neponset Avenue with tales of his daring do once he started hanging out there when he began high school at Dot High. Of course that was all kids’ stuff, baubles and beads stuff, since nobody expected a kid to have the talents for grifting right out of the box (having the heart, the “from hunger” wanting habits heart was a separate and maybe more pressing question) but there are certain guys, certain Eddie guys, who cling to those dreams pretty hard and give themselves a workout getting in shape.
From what one guy, Southie Slim, one of the Mel’s corner boys before he moved on to other stuff told me Eddie started pretty early, started simply conning other kids out of their milk money in elementary school over at the Monroe Trotter School. Here is the skinny on that first round according to Slim who got caught out himself before he picked up the grifter life for a while until he found out dealing high-grade dope to the Beacon Hill crowd was a great deal more profitable, and socially smart too once you added in willing women. Eddie somehow had picked up some dice, yeah, a pair and he would bet other kids, boys or girls it did not matter, their milk money on the results. Of course he somehow had “loaded” them so he would win. Now that was a fairly easy thing but here is where Eddie learned his craft. To keep play going he would let the other kids win occasionally, just enough to keep them interested rather than be a greed-head like big bully Matty Dugan down at my elementary school, Myles Standish, down in Carver who just strong-armed a kid a day for his (or her, it did not matter) milk money. But the real tip he picked up young as he was that as long as kids, people, think they can “pick you clean” you will always have a willing pool of suckers, of people to swindle, small or large but think large.
One night, one slow Friday night years later after he had settled deeply into the routine of the life, Eddie was cutting up touches about his old days while smoothing down high-shelf scotch (a no-no when you are on the hustle by the way save that for slow Friday nights when you are cutting up old touches Eddie said), about how he moved up after that dice thing ran its course as all such scams do if for no other reason that the grifter gets tired of the play, and he related what happened after that first scam when he got to the Curley Junior High School. Here is how it went, the basic outline since Eddie was kind of cagey about some of the details like the guys he was talking to that night were going to run right out and pull the scam themselves. Eddie basically ran a pyramid scheme on his fellow students. He conned the kids into giving him their money by saying he knew a guy, a friend of his older brother, Lawrence, who worked as a stable boy at the track and who knew when the fix was on in a race and who could place bets for him and get some bucks fast. Eddie convinced a couple of guys that if they put all their dough together they could buy a ticket and make some easy dough. And it worked for a while since Eddie in his devilish way paid off the guys with his own dough. Each guy getting maybe a buck which to a “from hunger” kid was a big deal. Word got out and soon plenty of kids, even girls were looking to get in on easy street. And so he would dole out some more dough. Then he pulled the plug, told everybody that he was going in for a big score that he was going to put twenty dollars on a sure thing that the stable boy had tipped him to. In the event he actually got about thirty five dollars collected altogether. Of course the horse ran out, never came close so all was lost. Hey, wait a minute have you been listening? Eddie didn’t know any stable boy, didn’t make any bet, so minus his seed money expenses he cleared twenty-five bucks. Here is what Eddie learned though know the “clients” (Eddie’s word) who you are dealing with and don’t be too greedy. He did that same small con for a couple of years and it worked like magic, got him his money for the jukebox at Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Gallivan Boulevard and movie money too. Small con wisdom but still wisdom.
Eddie as he got older, got into high school, got hanging around with his corner boys at Mel’s, got restless, always had that idea in back of his mind that he would pull a big score if he learned all the tricks of the trade, if he could get onto something big. For a while in high school it looked like he was on the fast track, he learned how to work the charity circuit for walking daddy (his term) walking around money using the old homeless but proud gag that those private charity donors love that he picked up one day when he was playing hooky from school and ran into an old con man, Railroad Bill, on a bench at Boston Common near the Park Street Station who gave him the tip. Eddie would laugh at how easy it was to pull off walking into let’s say the United Methodist Church Social Services office up on Beacon Street dressed in his very real hand-me- downs and unshaven making him look older but not too old (meaning the old telltale sign that the guy had been “on the bum” too long to be proud and work his way out of his current jam) going through his rough things but wanting to get back on track if he only had a the price of a week’s rent in one of the rooming houses that dotted the other side of the hill then (a few still there even today, significantly fewer though). That was good for ten or twenty at a time although the down side of that caper was that you could only use it once, maybe twice. The upside was that there were numerous private social service agencies like that looking for somebody “worthy” to give the dough to.
With that walking around money Eddie would work a variation of his kids’ stuff milk money run, he would sell lottery tickets (in the days before the state got its greasy hands into that racket), for different charities, say he was raising it for blind kids or to send kids to summer camp. Offer as prizes radios, televisions, maybe a record player, stuff like that which people wouldn’t mind spending a dollar or “three for five dollars” on to help some crippled-up kids, give them fresh air, or some other small break or something. So he would grab the dough and then have one or more of his corner boys rip off what was needed over at Lechmere Sales or someplace like that (usually using at first “Five Fingers” Riley or “Rat” Malone who started that racket early once they figured out that if you were fearless in grabbing stuff nobody was going to catch you, and that worked for a long time until they “graduated” to armed robberies and did consecutive nickels, dimes and quarters in various Massachusetts state pens).
See nobody gave a good damn if the charity he was hustling for ever got the dough all they knew was that for a buck, or three for five, they had a chance for their own television, radio, or record player important to hard-pressed high school kids who would not have those items otherwise. Needless to say the corner boys he used were good and he paid them off well like he should to keep them in line, another lesson learned, and so he honed his skills.
When Eddie graduated from high school and was to face the workaday world though he panicked a bit, decided that he needed to move up a step if he was going to avoid the fate of his belabored father, belabored by drink, yes, but also hard work on the docks, not always steady and with a brood of kids and a nagging wife to contend with. If the nine-to-five was not for Eddie neither was staying down in the depths either. (A history teacher had mentioned one time in class that all of her charges should seek to move up the latter of society at least one jump ahead of their parents and that kind of stuck with him.) So he started going into downtown Boston, started hanging around the Commons regularly unlike in high school where he would go just when playing hooky but really to blow off steam when something exploded at home in that damn crowded apartment, started to listen to guys to see if they had any ideas like that time “Railroad Bill” gave him the scoop on the private charity gag, had been on easy street at one time. He didn’t bother with the eternal winos and junkies for they had nothing to say that he could use but to guys and there always were guys who maybe had been on the hustle and got waylaid, or just got old in a young man’s racket and so maybe had some words to share. And before he knew it he met Sidewalk Sam and Bright Boy Benny a couple of guys who told him about old time scams, about how guys survived by their wits in the hard-ass Depression days. And come some old Friday night, a slow girl-less Friday usually, Eddie would hold forth about what he had learned in the world, learned from Sidewalk and Bright Boy.
Here, for example, is what he told the boys one Friday night, one “Five-Fingers” Malone-less Friday night marking the first time he got bagged for doing a robbery, unarmed that time, of a gas station and was doing a six month stretch at Deer Island, which will give you an idea of where Eddie was heading, a story of a scam that seemed impossible to pull off given what they were trying to do. Unless you knew how very greedy some guys, even smart guys were. Let’s call it the wallet switch, an old scam that Eddie would perform a couple of times later, successfully. You need two guys for this, at least. In this case two used to be “from hunger” Great Depression grifters Denver Slim and Gash Lavin. And you must know your mark’s movements pretty well and whether they have dough on them, a more usual circumstance than you might think back then than now that we are in this age of the ATM and cashable credit cards among those a shade to the left of the law (and a whole new Eddie-less generation tech- savvy grifters with their dreams, and stories they are telling their confederates on slow Friday nights). I won’t go into the preliminaries about setting the mark up, but they knew their guy, knew his movements and knew what he was carrying, so just rest assured that Denver and Gash had seeded their mark. Well actually Denver had seeded the mark, one Ricardo “Slice” Russo (you figure out the why of that moniker, okay), who was the bag man for Lou Thorpe’s numbers racket in New York City, yes the Lou Thorpe who ran wild back in the day and made a splash in Vegas to top off his career but this is earlier when he was greedier than Midas and so was particularly susceptible to any scheme that put money in his waiting hands.
Once a week Slice headed for Chicago on the midnight train to pay off Lou’s confederates there (at the high end of the rackets there are always confederates to pay off, cops too so it is just part of the overhead to keep on the streets. Guys down the bottom of the food chain don’t have such financial worries they are too busy keeping one eye out for looming John Law.)
Now bag men are pretty low in the food chain of any criminal enterprise but are like Eddie and every other Eddie-like dreamer also groomed on the con, on easy street dreams. What Denver did was to ask Slice, whom he cornered by evoking “Shark” Mahoney’s name, a mutual acquaintance, as he was heading to the station on the way to Chicago to drop off three thousand to a guy, “Bones” Kelly, also known to both men, on Division Street in that city for him. That money had been placed in a wallet, a black leather wallet similar to the one Slice was carrying the twenty thousand pay-off in, and when Slice got to Chi town he gave the wallet to the Division Street guy, to Kelly, the one with three thousand in it, three thousand in counterfeit money as Kelly later found out. See Slice had figured that doing Denver’s delivery was like finding money on the ground especially when he thought up the fake dough angle. So tough luck, Denver. Worse though, worse for Slice anyway, the mob’s wallet also had twenty thousand in counterfeit money when he delivered the wallet to an office in the Loop.
What had happened was that Gash had been on that train, had in the course of bumping into Slice switched wallets and got off in Cleveland leaving Slice to his troubles. But here is what you have to know, know about the mob. They thought Slice, a troublesome bag man and so an easy fall guy was pulling a fast one on them when he explained what he thought had happened and he wound up in the Illinois River face down before anybody investigated anything. Beautiful work by Denver and Gash who headed out West for a while just to be on the safe side but also know this-if you are running on the high side expect some blow-back, nasty blow-back if you don’t walk away clean. Just ask Slice
One night, another of those aimless nights when there was no action, or maybe Eddie was cooling out from a con, a wise move since overdoing the con scene leads inevitably to trouble, usually fist, gun or John Law trouble, he told the guys a story, a story about the granddaddy of all the scores, a haul of almost half a million back in the 1930s when half a million was not just walking around money like it is today. A story that Nutsy Callahan, another one of the Great Depression guys he would listen to over on the Commons told him about one afternoon after he had played out some luscious honey over on Tremont Street who had “curled his toes” and he was a bit too restless to head home (Eddie wasn’t much for girlfriends or serious female company on his way up and maybe it was better for him to just catch a quick “curl the toes” on an off-afternoon with some passing fancy because no question women are far tougher to deal with that the hardest scam). The way Nutsy told the story implied that he might have been in on the caper, although like all good grifters, grafters, percentage guys, and midnight sifters, he would put the account in the third person just in case the statute of limitations had not run out on whatever the offenses were, or, more likely, some pissed off Capo or his descendants were still looking to take some shots at guys who pulled such scams.
Nutsy had told Eddie a few lesser scams that he had been involved in and Eddie told a few lies of his own but the important thing for Eddie, or rather Eddie’s future was that he was looking to break out of the penny-ante grifts and ride easy street so he was looking for ideas, long ago ideas really because just maybe with a duke here and a juke there the thing could be played again. Eddie didn’t bother to tell Nutsy that for Nutsy would probably not have told the story or as likely dismiss Eddie’s chances out of hand. So Nutsy told the story and Eddie’s eyes went bonkers over the whole set-up.
This one involved “Top Hat” Hogan so named for the simple fact that as long as anybody had known him, or could remember, he always wore a fancy day top hat although rarely, very rarely, with any accompanying evening clothes. Some of his girl friends said he wore the damn thing when he was in bed with them and that was just fine because Top Hat was a walking daddy when it came to loving his women. Top Hat had been widely assumed to have been the brains behind the Silver Smith Fur scam, the Morgan Bank scam and the Golden Gate Mine dust-up which people talked about almost until the war (World War II if you are counting). So Top Hat under any circumstances was a number one grifter who any guy with any dough, any serious dough, had better check up on to see if Top Hat had been in the vicinity if he wanted to keep said cash. The other key guy, and the reason Top Hat, who had been semi-retired at the time of this caper and rightfully so having run the rack already, was a raw kid, a kid with promise but not much else then, was “Jet” Jenkins. And the reason that Top Hat even considered teaming up with a raw kid like Jet, was that he was the son of Happy Heddy Jenkins, a fancy woman who had “curled his toes” back in his younger days. Heddy had had some good days and bad days but one of the bad days had been meeting up with the famous gambler, Black Bart Benson, one of the great flim-flam, flim-flam meaning simply a cheater without mercy and guys, leg-breakers if anybody had a problem with that, poker players of the day.
Old Bart had nevertheless had run into a streak of bad luck at cards which even cheaters face at times, had borrowed and lost almost a one hundred thousand dollars from Heddy (who ran on the best, friendliest, and easiest to enter if you had the money whorehouses in Chicago). Somehow things had taken a turn for the worst after Black Bart left Heddy high and dry and she was back on cheap street trying to raise a helter-skelter growing boy with short funds. Not so Black Bart who had cheated his way to a million dollar bonanza when his luck changed. (That cheating not known, obviously, to the guys taking the beating at the card table but Heddy knew her Bart and imparted that wisdom onto her son.) When Heddy sent Jet to see if Bart would ante up the cash he had borrowed from her he dismissed Jet with a flick of his hand, and after a serious beating by one of his leg-breakers had him dumped him in some back alley in Altoona one night. Bart had, with a laugh, as his boys administered that beating, told Jet that he should sue him in court to get his money back as he wasn’t in the mood to give some bent whore dough that she had gotten from her whorehouse dollies. So Heddy, so Jet, and after hearing about what Bart had called Heddy, so Top Hat were primed for revenge. But more than revenge because that is easy, kids’ stuff, but to send Bart back to cheap street hustling winos with three-card Monte tricks or stuff like that.
The key to understanding Black Bart was that like a lot of con artists, no, most con artists, no, make that all con artists, is that beside being easy prey to any scam especially a scam that plays to their greed they always assume that they are smarter than whoever is making the proposition and can double-back on it to their profit. Top Hat had easy pickings when he ran across guys like Bart. Here is the way that Top Hat worked his magic, although when Nutsy finished telling Eddie the lay Eddie thought the venture had too many moving parts, too many guys in on the score once Black Bart was brought down.
It went like this. “Buggy” Bannon knew Black Bart, knew he was always interested in an easy score so Buggy put the word in Bart’s ear about some silver and gold mining stock that was about to go through the roof once the worst parts of the Depression were over. So Buggy, who had worked with Top Hat on the Silver Smith scam and so was trustworthy, or as trustworthy as any guy working on a scam can be introduced Top Hat to Bart as a chief stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. Then Top Hat went through the traces, got Bart hooked in with the knowledge about the gold and silver stock. Of course Top Hat had had “Horseless” Harry sent up a nice brochure in color all about the various possibilities of the mining stock and Bart got interested, saw quick dollar signs. Of course even an over-the-top greedy guy like Bart had to see some real stuff, some real stockbroker operation, so Top Hat had rented out space in a building in the financial district and created out of sheer nothing a stock market room complete with ticker-tape, running around employees (all grifters from out west so that Bart would not recognize them) or and investors milling around.
That was the part that Eddie thought was over the top, the too many moving parts aspect, but in any case it all looked good to Bart. Here is the carrot Top Hat told Bart to invest a few thousand to see how it went. And so Bart did, bringing to the stock room five thousand in cash as all con artists did then in the days before working kited checks and credit cards and stuff like that opened out new ways to bilk people, including smart guys. A few days later Top Hat delivers ten thousand to Bart, all fresh dough, and so they are off to the races because now he sees that this thing could make him really rich. Of course Top Hat knowing that you have to bring a guy, a sucker along, knowing you needed to whet his appetite had just added five of his own money to Bart’s to bring in the bonanza (writing it off as overhead just like any other legal or illegal operation).
Bart, although no fool and who still had some suspicions, was no question hooked though as Top Hat fed him another stock tip and told him he should let the ten thousand ride, which he did. About a week later Top Hat delivers twenty-two thousand to Bart and he was really hooked, really wants to put more money down. Especially when that twenty-two went to fifty grand a few weeks later. Bart said to Top Hat that it was like finding money on the street. Then Top Hat really got to him, let him know that in South Africa, a known gold, silver and diamond mother lode to everybody in those days that a new field was within days of being explored and discovered and that Bart should be ready to go big and get in on the ground floor. Here is the beauty of the thing though. The financial pages were almost in a conspiracy with Top Hat because they were also projecting some speculation about new minefields. One day Top Hat told Bart to get all the cash he could gather because that South African stock, low, very low at the time would be going through the roof once the discovery was confirmed. So a few days later Bart brought a suitcase filled with cash, about a million maybe a little less, and pushed it over to Top Hat. Top Hat went to the cashier (“Hangman” Henry of all people) and brought back a receipt to Bart.
Now you can figure out the rest. A few days later news of that new minefield did come in and that stock did rise although in a world filled with gold and silver with nobody to buy stuff yet not as much as you would have expected but still a good take. Bart then called Top Hat to tell him to cash in. No answer at Top Hat’s number. Bart then went to the stock exchange room to find nothing but a “for rent” sign on the doors. As for Top Hat and Jet well they were on the train back to New York with that one hundred grand for Heddy and a twinkle came into Top Hat’s eyes about those old days when she “curled his toes,” and might again. Beautiful.
That story etched in his brain Eddie Daley started putting together a few ideas in his head, getting on the phone to a few guys (fewer than Top Hat had in his operation), and started making some dough connections for financing. Out in the grifter night they still talk about Eddie Daley, whereabouts unknown, “king of the grifters” after he took Vince Edwards the big book operator for about a million and a quarter in cold hard cash. You now know the back story on that one.