“1932 was a pretty good year for me. For the rest of the country it was the height of the Great Depression but, for me, business was good. I’ll never forget that year. It was above and beyond any others.
“Jack Benny aired his radio show for the first time. Gas was ten cents a gallon, you could grab a cup of coffee for around 2 cents and a movie ticket cost a whopping twenty-five cents.
“Dwight Eisenhower ran for President and you couldn’t go near a radio without hearing Happy Days Are Here Again. Not that there was anything wrong with that, it was a great campaign song and it gave hope to many jobless schmoes who were left broken by the economic draught.
“As I said before, my work never suffered once. In fact the Great Depression lined my pockets well. I truly believe if I hadn’t been in the line of business I was, I would’ve probably been hurting like the rest of the country.
“The regular joe saw pay cuts of up to thirty percent and over thirteen million people were out of work. Banks were shutting down left and right taking every penny some folks had with them.
“Even with all that misery going on I managed to carve out some happiness for myself. If cash was king I had enough of it to at least call myself a Duke. While the country was suffering I saw over a quarter million dollars in my bank account.
“My job was as an enforcer for the mob. As far as politics went, Luciano had basically taken over Tammany Hall, along with Costello and Lansky, using the vast amounts of money he was accruing from his liquor sales during prohibition. He bought just about every cop, politician, and judge in New York.
“Over seventy five percent of the New York Justice system was in Lucky’s pocket. Good for me, not so much for the people who owed him money.
“My job was a simple one. I beat the living snot out of any idiot dumb enough to borrow cash from the coffers and not pay it back on time or with the approved (insanely high) interest rate.
“Did I like my job? No. The Castellammarese War made it all even more difficult as the battle Luciano started between the Maranzano and Masseria families targeted all sorts of mobbies, including us knucklemen.
“Don’t ask me how Lucky got so smart as to take up the man on his offer. But, as requested, he set up Don Masseria in return for becoming Maranzano’s second in command.
“In ’31, after killing Masseria, Meyer Lansky took a group of guys posing as cops and G-men to Maranzano’s office and two of them questioned Maranzano inside. When I say questioned I hope you get that I mean beating and stabbing. On their way out they ran into, and took out, the hitter that was hired to do Luciano.
“The truly amazing part is that Maranzano had been planning on having Luciano killed at the exact same time he was being killed himself. Now that’s some Lucky justice. Heh. Anyway, these are things I’m sure everyone knows by now.
“I never got to meet any of the Young Turks myself, I was way too low on the totem pole for them to even notice me, but I sure noticed them –kinda hard not to when Luciano was pulling down twelve million a year at a time when good people were starving in the streets.
“My job didn’t bring me in contact with any of the big guns. No, sir, the highest I got was the street boss. He gave me my orders and told me where, when, who, and how much to collect or break.
“I didn’t much care for Vinny but I liked the money and I liked being alive so I did as I was told. Mostly it was pretty simple; go to their homes or storefronts, remind them how much they owed and how much time they had to pay. Then I was to remind them of the consequences of nonpayment.
“On the day the money was due I’d go back and get either the money or break a finger, the next day they gave me the money or they’d lose a finger, permanently.
“I’d continue breaking bones, and collecting digits, until the money was repaid. Sometimes seeing the fear in their eyes and knowing they couldn’t pay made me feel lousy but it didn’t stop me from doing my job.
“Before you think I’m some completely heartless mook you oughta know that occasionally I put up my own money for the ones I felt had been duped by Vinny.
“Along with the loans Vin also ran a protection racket. It became part of my job to go and scare all those business people into giving up their hard earned money to a joker like him so he wouldn’t have me trash their store. Me and Paulie, my partner, didn’t smash as much as we were supposed to.
“Those were the jobs I hated the most. All those good people hit hard by The Depression and I was pretty much in charge of robbing them blind. Yet it wasn’t all bad as those were also the days I made the most money for myself.
“As much as I loathed my work I loved my wife and kids and wanted to keep them well cared for. My wife had an inkling of what I did and every night she’d make me confess to God in our closet with the door closed.
“I don’t think she ever wanted to know for sure what I did because while I was in the closet she’d head to the kitchen and, when I was done with confession, I’d come find her and we’d pray for my soul.
“I love her more than words can say. Always have and always will, God rest her soul. Every morning when I stared into that mirror to shave I worried that one day all this pain I’ve created will be thrown back onto me, you understand?”
“I think I do, son. Why do I get the feeling you have more you need to tell me?” The priest was smart.
I wasn’t sure why he was calling me son, though, as I lay here on my death bed I was at least twenty some years older than he.
“Because there is more, Father. I didn’t just harm people. In November of ’32 I made my first and only kill.” I went into a coughing spasm then and the priest brought me some water and angled the straw so I could sip it.
“Here, drink this.”
“Thank you.” I took a sip, then continued, “Anyway, it was November and the weather was crummy as usual –it had stayed around thirty for most of the month. We had some sleet that day and there was a man that Vinny told me hadn’t paid.
“I didn’t remember this man and told my street boss as much. He said another collection agent was in charge of the case and that this other man was indisposed today and I’d have to go in and collect the money or the man’s head.
“He literally meant his head. Apparently this guy had secured the loan through The Man himself. So, by not paying, he had snubbed Meyer Lansky in the worse possible way.
“That snub meant a father of three, a good man by all accounts, was to lose his life and not even get a decent burial. I did as Vinny requested and I will never forgive myself for it.
“I went home that night, vomited several times, and spent the rest of that horrible night on my knees begging for God’s forgiveness. My little Johnny was only two at the time and he woke up and came in.
‘Dadda’ he said ‘God love you. Sleepy time now.’ He gave me the most beatific smile, hugged me tight, turned on his heel with his arms outstretched and went back to bed.
“I sobbed for the next four hours as I realized the children whose father I had taken would never feel the warm arms of their Dadda around them again. God may have forgiven me, Father, but I will never forgive myself.
“After that day I told Vin I was no hitter, just muscle. I thought for sure he’d take me out but he nodded and said, ‘Okay John. I get it. I’m not cut out for that avenue of this business either.’
“That was all he ever said on the subject because we never spoke of it again. I went on with my threatening and bone breaking for a good twenty years. Stayed at it until Vinny died and I was given the chance to be the street boss. I turned it down and retired.
“I had made over five million dollars in my time and spent it on good investments and real estate. What I have now is worth over twenty two million. Sad to say, but all that money couldn’t keep karma at bay. All the pain I’d inflicted over the years came back to me in the form of cancer. Docs say I’ll be dead by morning.
“That’s why I called you, Father. I was hoping you’d give me my last rites. I understand if you refuse given what I’ve just told you. But I also have a check for ten million dollars that I want given to charity, whatever one you see fit. Please give it in Jesus’ name.
“My kids understand and are set for life with the other twelve million. Will you help me, Father? Will you give me absolution and my last rites?”
“I will, son. You have confessed all your sins?” He looked at me worriedly. I don’t think he wanted to hear more.
“Then pray with me and God shall absolve you.”
The priest I sat and prayed for my soul. Exhaustion overtook me and I laid back in my hospital bed with the prayer echoing in my ears. A smile crossed my face as my soul slipped from this world.