I can also Henry laughing at the irony of the relationship he develops with Johnny. Simple, straight forward, but without verbal sentiment.
Not a great effort, but an attempt nonetheless.
September 1936 -
To Luther Coleman, Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff were a match made in heaven. A street-wise hustler and an experienced con man who needed a challenge.
But with Henry’s determined lone-wolf mentality and Johnny’s pain-in-the-ass stubbornness, it was going to be one hell of a hard sell.
As he made his way along the amusement boardwalk to Henry’s ‘place of residence’, he caught sight of Billie sweeping the steps that lead to the second floor of the building. Billie was the tough-as-nails dame who ran the place. The amusement arcade was just a front for the profitable girlie house upstairs. She was also Henry’s ‘companion’.
Luther called out. “Mornin’ Billie. How’s business?”
“Can’t complain Luther. How’s Alva and the kids?”
“Incorrigible as always.” Luther smiled fondly.
“I guess you’re lookin’ for someone?” Billie nodded her head towards the downstairs annexe. “He’s down below fixing the carousel. Go on through, the door’s open.”
Luther pushed at the heavy wooden door. He was greeted with the sight of classical gaudiness and whimsy. An old-fashioned carousel almost filled the room, decorated with brightly coloured animals and horses.
What a place for one of the greatest goddamn grifters in the business!
At the sound of Luther’s shoes tapping against the floor, a man’s head peered out from a small doorway in the middle of the carousel.
Luther grinned. Even up to his neck in grease and paint, Henry Gondorff was still one of the classiest men he had ever laid eyes on. “Jesus Christ. Never thought I would see the day the Great Henry Gondorff would be getting’ his pretty hands all dirtied up.”
Henry jumped the last two steps of the small ladder. He wiped his hands on an on his overalls and chuckled. “Well, you know how it is. Give a woman an inch, and she takes a mile.” He took Luther’s pre-offered hand and shook it vigorously. “How ya doin’?”
“Can’t complain. You…ah got a few minutes for an old hustler?”
“Sure. Head on upstairs. I’ll just go get cleaned up.”
Luther made his way to the bar on the first floor. Billie and a couple of her girls were cleaning the area ready for tonight’s clientele. Billie nudged her companions and together they picked up their mops and cloths and tactfully made themselves scarce.
A few minutes passed before Luther heard heavy footsteps climb the staircase. Henry appeared from the small kitchen with two bottles of beer. He placed them on the table before popping the tops and sitting down. He spoke without preamble. “Ok old man, what’s on your mind?”
Luther spoke quickly “Henry I’m getting out of the street racket. Me an’ Alva an’ the kids are headino
“Goin’ all legal on me?” Henry felt around in his pockets for his cigarettes.
“Mostly.” Luther smiled. “I’m getting’ too old for this racket. Bout time I did an honest days work. I just need to sort out a few loose ends, so I’ve came to beg a favour.”
Henry leaned forward in his chair, anchoring his elbows on the table and lighting a slightly crushed cigarette. “Oh? Sounds rather ominous.”
“Don’t be like that. I’m here to sell ya a good deal.” Luther felt small pang of sadness hit his insides. It felt as though he were about to severe ties with his own son. But he knew in the end it was all for the best. “Did I ever talk about the kid who’s been working with me? A guy named Hooker. Johnny Hooker.”
Henry pursed his lips in thought. “Hmm…word gets around. Been with you a while hasn’t he?”
Luther nodded. “Johnny’s been working the streets with me for near on three years now. It’s about time Johnny moved up. His talents are wasted on this nickel-and-dime street caper. I can’t take him any further .”
“Does the kid have any experience?”
“Well not in the big con, but Christ, he has all the makings of a fine con artist.” Luther smiled. “Actually, he reminds me a lot like you; street-smart, slick, and intelligent, with enough charm and good looks to rope even the most difficult mark. What I'm sayin' is that after I'm gone, he's gonna need some guidance. Somebody to teach him the basics. You're the best Henry."
Henry stared at his beer bottle. “Hustling some dumb sonofabitch off the street is a little different to hustling a big time racketeer, Luther. He took a quick pull on the bottle and continued. “It’s just easier for me to fly solo. Hit the mark, take your cut, and get outta town with only yourself to worry about.”
He drained his bottle as he continued. “Did you speak to Jersey Tom? He’s far more into the mentoring business than I am.”
Luther shrugged. “I never really gave him a thought. Last I heard J.T was headed out to
“Luther, you know how I’m placed at the moment…”
Luther sat forward in his seat. “Look, we’ve been friends for twenty years Henry. I wouldn’t be pushin’ for you to look after this kid if I thought he would end up putting you into a corner.”
Henry pushed his plate to one side and stood up. He paced up and down the room, hands in his pocket. He knew his arguments were futile, but he intended to voice them anyway. “Luther I’m Federal. I have a warrant from
He sat back down and slumped in his seat. “I want to help, but I have serious jail time hanging over me if I so much as poke my nose back over the state line. I don’t want the responsibility of having anyone else caught up in my mistakes because let me tell ya, they won’t be layin’ out the rose petals for me.”
Luther’s voice was quiet, yet serious. “This is the life we chose Henry. Whether we are simple street grifters, or big con artists. We know the risks and consequences, otherwise we woulda been outta this business a long time ago.”
Luther tapped his fingertips against the table. “
Luther watched Henry stand up and stare out of the window. He traced his fingers along the dust of the window sill.
“I realise what I am asking you to take on, but this is an opportunity to have a smart steady partner, someone capable of pulling off big cons. Maybe even someone prepared to watch your back. For all Johnny’s initial stubbornness, he’s as loyal as hell.”
Henry let out a barely audible groan. As soon as Luther walked through the door he knew he was going to help him out.
“Fine. Let me have a talk to him first. I’ll see what I can do.” Henry sat astride his chair, looking at his friend closely to hammer his point home. “But I mean it Luther. This kid better not give me any trouble. He has to be prepared to listen and learn, because I ain’t got time for cocky smart guys who think they are better than they are. First sign of trouble, and he is on his own.”
Luther nodded and tried to contain his relief. “I’ll speak to him at Bourdeau’s tonight. Believe me Henry, by the time you’re finished with him, he’ll be even better known than you are.”
Henry shook his head and rubbed his forehead in exasperation. “I’m hope I’m not gonna regret this.”
Luther ignored his comment and stood up. “I’ll bring Johnny ‘round tomorrow morning. In the mean time, we have a bit of business downtown.”
Henry followed suit as he lit up another cigarette and walked Luther to the door. “Give my love to Alva won’t you.”
Luther smiled. “I will. And Henry?”
“You and Johnny really could do beautiful things together.” Luther smiled as Henry threw up his hands in defeat.
As Luther began to walk home, he felt as if a large burden had been lifted from his shoulders. This afternoon, there would be one last hustle in the alleyway between forth and third and that would be it. Next stop, a new life in
He just hoped Johnny would understand his reasons for leaving and wouldn’t give him too much grief. But he knew that it was wishful thinking. For the last three years, Johnny Hooker had almost been part of the Coleman family. But Johnny was his own man; well over thirty years old and no longer a boy. Bout time he grew up and began working as a professional.
At least with Henry to guide him, he had the potential to earn five or six times what he would make in a year with his street hustling.
But more importantly, in Henry’s hands, Johnny would be safe.
That final goodbye was the last time Henry Gondorff had seen Luther Coleman alive. Twelve hours later, the old man was face down in the dirt; thrown from his third storey dining room window by one of Doyle Lonnigan’s torpedoes.
Luther and Johnny’s final hustle had unknowingly swindled one of Lonnigan’s numbers runners. Alone and hungry for revenge, Johnny had followed Luther’s initially shrugged-off advice and went in search of the Great Henry Gondorff.
What ever happened next, well, perhaps that's just how Luther planned it.
May 1937 -
Henry watched the cigarette smoke expel slowly from his lips as he indulgently gazed at a sleeping Johnny. The calm of the wee small hours sometimes led a man to reflect more than he would like.
He and Johnny would leave
Henry himself was no mark, and always allowed Johnny to rope him after a few minutes of throwing out token arguments. It was almost like a game, inevitably leading to a frenzied climax of panting and groaning until the dawn appeared.
He extinguished his cigarette. As he lay back on the bed covers, Henry couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. After a few minutes of silence, he felt the pull and rustle of the starched hotel sheets as Johnny stirred beside him.
“Henry?” Johnny’s voice was soft and sleepy.
“Hmm?” Henry turned his head slightly, only just being able to make out the outline of Johnny’s face and hair in the dim light flooding in from the street.
“Nah. Just thinking.” Henry yawned and stared at the ceiling.
“It’s two in the morning. Give your brain a rest.” Johnny’s groan was partly smothered by his pillow.
Although it was against Henry’s better judgement, he confessed his thoughts. “I was thinking about Luther. Thinking about the day he came to see me about teaching you the big con.”
Johnny hoisted himself up onto his elbows and stared down at his friend. “Oh yeah?”
Henry smiled in the darkness. “As soon as he said he had a favour to ask me, I knew I wasn’t going to let him down. I gave him a bit of an argument; let him know what you were in for. He just said he would bring you over the next morning.” Henry met Johnny’s eyes as he reached out to run his fingers over Johnny’s bare skin. “That was the morning before you hustled that Italian kid…”
They were both silent for a moment until Johnny finally spoke. “Any regrets?”
Hearing the wobble in his partner’s voice, Henry pulled him close and kissed him hard. He felt Johnny clutch his shoulders tightly; almost possessively. Henry drew back just enough to speak against Johnny’s mouth. “Only that Luther didn’t see you get that sonofabitch.” He leaned in and kissed him again.
When they broke away from each other, they quietly lay side by side; allowing their overcharged bodies to cool in the early morning air.
“Can you imagine what Luther would say if he saw us now?” Johnny stared at the ceiling and watched the patterns from the moonlight shift across the white background.
Henry let out a snort and laughed. “He’s probably in some bar having a good chuckle to himself and saying “I told you so, Henry”.”
“He always was one hell of a smart bastard.” Johnny grinned as he reached out to Henry..