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Authors: Lawrence Sanders

Timothy's game

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Timothy’s GameThe Timothy Cone SeriesLawrence Sanders


Book I: Run, Sally, Run!









Book II: A Case of the Shorts








Book III: One from Column A





“Sex is dead. Money is the sex of our time.”

—Sally Steiner

BOOK IRun, Sally, Run!One

JAKE STEINER, A CRUDEand growly man, slams down his fork. “Whatisthis shit?” he demands.

“It’s fettucini primavera, pa,” Sally says. “Martha made the pasta herself, and all the spring vegetables are fresh. Try it; you’ll like it.”

“I won’t try it, and I won’t like it. Whatever happened to a nice brisket and a boiled potato?”

“You know what the doctor told you about that,” his daughter says, then jerks a thumb at his tumbler of whiskey and water. “And aboutthat.”

“Screw the doctor,” Jake says wrathfully. “There are more old drunks than old doctors.”

He gets up from the table, stalks over to the marble-topped sideboard, takes a cigar from a humidor. He bites off the cigar tip and spits it into a crystal ashtray.

“I’ll pick up something to eat later,” he says. “I gotta go out.”

“Yeah,” Sally says. “To Ozone Park. It’s payoff night. Those fucking bandits.”

“Watch your mouth,” he says sharply. “Act like a lady; talk nice.”

She finishes her fettucini, watching as he scrapes a kitchen match across the marble slab and lights his cigar.

“I gotta import these matches from Florida,” he tells her. “You can’t buy scratch-anywhere matches around here. Would you believe it?” He puffs importantly, twirling the cigar in his heavy lips. “What are you doing tonight?”

“I’m going up and sit with ma awhile. Give Martha a chance to have some dinner and clean up.”

“And then?”

“I thought I’d drive into New York and take in a movie. There’s a new Woody Allen.”

“Bullshit,” her father says. “You’re going to see that fairy brother of yours. Well, don’t give him my love.”

“Believe me,” Sally says, “he can live without it.”

They glare at each other, then Jake pushes back the sliding glass door and stamps out onto the tiled terrace to smoke his cigar, taking his whiskey glass with him.

Sally goes up to her mother’s bedroom on the second floor. Martha is feeding the invalid. Rebecca Steiner’s hands and lower legs are so crippled with rheumatoid arthritis that she cannot walk, cannot hold a spoon.

“How was dinner, ma?” Sally asks.

“Delicious,” Becky says, smiling brightly. “And I’ll bet your father wouldn’t take even a little taste.”

“You’d win your bet. Martha, why don’t you go down and have your dinner. I’ll sit with ma for a while.”

The old black woman nods. “There’s a nice piece of strawberry cheesecake, Miz Steiner,” she says to the woman in the wheelchair. “Just the way you like it.”

Sally leans over her mother. “How about the cheesecake?” she asks.

“Well, maybe just a bite. I hate to disappoint Martha; she works so hard.”

“Ho-ho,” Sally says. “If I know you, you’ll finish the whole slice. Come on now, open wide.”

She feeds the cheesecake to Rebecca, then holds the mug of coffee close so her mother can sip through a straw.

“You’re going out tonight?” Becky asks. “It’s Saturday. You got maybe a date?”

“Nah, ma. I’m driving over to New York to see Eddie.”

“That’s nice. You’ll give him my love?”

“Of course. Don’t I always?”

“Listen, Sally, in New York you’ll be careful?”

“I’m always careful. I can take care of myself, ma; you know that.”

They watch the evening news on television, and then sit gossiping about an aunt who is on her third husband and has recently taken up with a beach boy in Hawaii.

Rebecca Steiner is shocked, but Sally says, “Let her have her fun; she can afford it.”

Martha comes back up, carrying her knitting, and she and Mrs. Steiner settle down for a night of television. Then, at eleven o’clock, Rebecca will be put to bed, and Martha will retire to her own bedroom to read the Bible.

“Dad still downstairs?” Sally asks her.

“Oh, yeah,” Martha says. “Stomping up and down and cursing.”

“Sure. What else.”

She goes downstairs to find her father pulling on his leather trench coat. He has a fresh, unlighted cigar clamped between his teeth.

“How is she?” he asks.

“Why don’t you go up occasionally and take a look?” Sally says angrily.

“I can’t take it,” her father says, groaning. “I see her like that, and I remember …”

“Yeah, well, she’s the same; no change.”

He nods and tugs down a floppy tweed cap. “It’s chilling off out there, Sal. Wear a coat.”

“I will, pa.”

“You want a lift?”

“No, I’ll take my car.”

“You got your pistol?”

“In the glove compartment.”

“You get in trouble, don’t be afraid to use it.”

“I’ll use it. Pa, watch your back with those ginzos.”

“Listen, when I can’t handle momsers like that, I’ll be ready for Mount Zion.”

Suddenly, unexpectedly, he comes close to touch her cheek with his fingertips.

“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” he says, looking into her eyes.

“I’m surviving,” Sally Steiner says.

“Yeah,” he says. “See you tomorrow, kiddo. Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

She watches from the window until he drives away in his black Cadillac Eldorado. Then she struggles into a long sweater coat that cost a week’s salary at one of those Italian boutiques on Madison Avenue. She backs her silver Mazda RX-7 out of the three-car garage. She checks the glove compartment to make certain the loaded pistol is there, then heads for Manhattan.

Jake Steiner drives from Smithtown into Ozone Park. He parks in front of a narrow brick building, windows painted black. There is a small sign over the doorway:THE MIAMI FISHING AND SOCIAL CLUB.

Jake gets out of his Cadillac, knowing the hubcaps are safe. There is no thievery on this street. And no muggings, no littering, no graffiti. Maybe the cops drive through once a week, but the locals take care of everything.

There are a few geezers in the front room, playing cards and drinking red wine. They don’t look up when the door opens. But the mastodon behind the bar eyeballs Steiner and pours a waterglass of whiskey, splash of water, no ice. Jake pulls out a fat roll of bills, peels off a twenty, hands it over.

“For your favorite charity,” he says.

“Yeah,” the bartender says, and moves his head toward the back room.

Steiner carries his whiskey through a doorway curtained with strings of glass beads, most of them chipped or broken. There is one round wooden table back there, surrounded with six chairs that look ready to collapse at the first shout. The tabletop has a big brownish stain in the center. It could be a wine spill or it could be a blood spill; Jake doesn’t know and doesn’t wonder.

Two men are sitting there: Vic Angelo and his underboss and driver, Mario Corsini. They’ve got a bottle of Chivas Regal between them, and their four-ounce shotglasses are full. Only Vic gets to his feet when Steiner enters. He spreads his arms wide.

“Jew bastard,” he says, grinning.

“Wop sonofabitch,” Jake says.

They embrace, turning their heads carefully aside so they won’t mash their cigars. They look alike: short, porky through chest and shoulders, with big bellies, fleshy faces, manicures, and pinkie rings.

“Hiya, Mario,” Jake says.

Corsini nods.

“How’s the family?” Angelo asks, pulling out a chair for Jake.

“Couldn’t be better. Yours?”

“Likewise, thank God. So here we are again. A month gone by. Can you believe it?”

“Yeah,” Steiner says, taking a gulp of his drink, “I can believe it.”

He tugs a white envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket and slides it across the table to Angelo.

“My tax return,” he says.

Vic smiles and pushes the envelope to Corsini. “I don’t even have to count it,” he says. “I trust you. How long we been good friends, Jake?”

“Too long,” Steiner says, and Mario Corsini stirs restlessly.

“Yeah, well, we got a little business to discuss here,” Angelo says, sipping his scotch delicately. “Like they say, good news and bad news. I’ll give you the bad first. We’re upping your dues two biggies a month.”

Steiner slams a meaty fist down on the table. It rocks; their drinks slop over.

“Two more a month?” he says. “What kind of shit is this?”

“Take it easy,” Vic Angelo says soothingly. “Everyone in Manhattan and Brooklyn is getting hit for another grand.”

“But I get hit for two? That’s because I’m such a good friend of yours—right?”

“Don’t be such a fucking firecracker,” Vic says. He turns to his underboss. “He’s a firecracker, ain’t he, Mario?”

“Yeah,” Corsini says. He’s a saber of a man, with a complexion more yellowish than olive.

“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you the good news,” Angelo says to Steiner. “We’re giving you a new territory. South of where your dump is now. Along Eleventh Avenue to Twenty-third Street.”

“Yeah?” Jake says suspiciously. “What happened to Pitzak?”

“He retired,” Vic says.

“Where to? Forest Lawn?”

“I don’t like jokes like that,” Corsini says. “It’s not respectful.”

“What the fuck do I care what you like or don’t like,” Steiner says. He swallows whiskey. “So the bottom line is that my tariff goes up two Gs, and I get Eleventh Avenue down to Twenty-third Street. Right?”

“And all the garbage you can eat,” Corsini says.

“Listen, sonny boy,” Jake says. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You’re drinking Chivas Regal. That’s where it comes from—my garbage.”

“Hey hey,” Angelo says. “Let’s talk like gentlemen. So you start on Monday, Jake. You can handle the business?”

“Maybe I’ll need a new truck or two. Let me see how much there is.”

“You need more trucks,” Vic says, “don’t buy new ones. We can give you a good deal on Pitzak’s fleet.”

“Oh-ho,” Steiner says. “It’s like that, is it?”

“That’s the way it is,” Corsini says. “You take over Pitzak’s district, you take over his trucks. From us.”

“I love you wise guys,” Jake says. “You got more angles than worms.”

“If you’re shorting,” Angelo says gently, “we can always make you a loan to buy the trucks. Low vigorish.”

“Thanks for nothing,” Steiner says bitterly. “I wouldn’t touch your loans with my schlong. I’ll manage.”

“One more thing,” Vic says. “We want you to take on a new man. He’s been over from the old country six months now. Strictly legit. He’s got his papers and all that shit. A good loader for you. A nice young boy. He’ll work hard, and he’s strong.”

“Yeah?” Jake says. “He speaka da English?”

“As good as you and me,” Angelo assures him.

“What about the union?”

“It’s fixed,” Vic says. “No problem.”

“If I’m taking over Pitzak’s organization,” Steiner says, “what do I need a new man for?”

“Because he’s my cousin,” Mario Corsini says.

They drain their drinks, and Jake rises.

“It’s been a lovely evening,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

He nods at them and marches out, leaving his empty whiskey glass and chewed cigar butt on the table.

“I don’t trust that scuzz,” Mario says, filling their shotglasses with scotch. “He’s got no respect.”

“He’s got his problems,” Vic says. “A crippled wife. A fag son. And his daughter—who the hell knows what she is. What a house he’s going home to.”

“Only he ain’t going home,” Corsini says. “He’s going to Brooklyn. He keeps a bimbo on Park Slope. He bought a co-op for her.”

Angelo stares at him. “No shit?” he says. “How did you find that out?”

“I like to know who we’re dealing with. You never know when it might come in handy.”

“A young twist?”

“Oh, sure. And a looker. He makes it with her three or four times a week. Sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night.”

“The old fart,” Vic Angelo says admiringly. “I never would have guessed. I wonder if his wife knows.”

“I’ll bet that smartass daughter of his knows,” Corsini says. “I can’t figure her. You never know what she’s thinking.”

Manhattan comes across the bridge, the harsh and cluttered city where civility is a foreign language and the brittle natives speak in screams. Sally Steiner loves it; it is her turf. All the rough and raucous people she buffets—hostility is a way of life. Speak softly and you are dead.

She dropped out of Barnard after two years. Those women—she had nothing in common with them; they had never been wounded. They were all Bendel and Bermuda. What did they know about their grimy, ruttish city and the desperate, charged life about them? They floated as Sally strode—and counted herself fortunate.

Her brother lives in Hell’s Kitchen on a mean and ramshackle street awaiting the wrecker’s ball. Eddie works on the top floor of a five-story walk-up. The original red brick façade is now festooned with whiskers of peeling gray paint, and the stone stoop is cracked and sprouting.

His apartment is spacious enough, but ill proportioned, and furnished with cast-offs and gutter salvage. But the ceilings are high; there is a skylight. Room enough for easel, taboret, paints, palettes, brushes. And white walls for his unsold paintings: a crash of color.

He has his mother’s beauty and his father’s body: a swan’s head atop a pit bull. When he embraces Sally, she smells turps and a whiff of garlic on his scraggly blond mustache.

“Spaghetti again?” she asks. “A’la olio?”

“Again,” he says with his quirky smile.

“I can’t complain; we had fettucini. Ma sends her love. Pa doesn’t send his.”

Eddie nods. “How is the old man?”

“Terrible. Smoking and drinking up a storm. I don’t know why he’s paying that fancy Park Avenue doc. He never does what he’s told.”

“He’s still got the girl in Brooklyn?”

“Oh, sure. I can’t blame him for that. Can you?”

“Yes,” Eddie Steiner says, “I can blame him.”

They sit side by side on a dilapidated couch, one broken leg propped on a telephone directory. Eddie pours them glasses of a harsh chianti.

“How you doing, kiddo?” Sally asks him.

“I’m doing okay,” he says. “A gallery down in the East Village wants to give me a show.”

“Hey! That’s great!”

He shakes his head. “Not yet. I’m not ready. I’m still working.”

Sally looks around at the paintings on the walls, the half-blank canvas on the easel.

“Your stuff is getting brighter, isn’t it?”

“Oh, you noticed that, did you? Yeah,” he says, laughing, “I’m coming out of my blue mood. And I’m getting away from the abstract bullshit. More representational. How do you like that head over there? The little one on top.”

“Jesus,” Sally says, “who the hell isshe?”

“A bag lady. I dragged her up here to pose. I did some fast pencil sketches, gave her a couple of bucks, and then did the oil. I like it.”

“I do, too, Eddie.”

“Then take it; it’s yours.”

“Nah, I couldn’t do that. Sell it. Prove to pa you’re a genius.”

“Who the hell cares what he thinks. I talked to ma a couple of days ago. She sounded as cheerful as ever.”

“Yeah, she never complains. Where’s Paul?”

“Bartending at a joint on Eighth Avenue. It’s just a part-time thing, but it brings in some loot. Including that wine you’re drinking.”

“Paul’s a sweetheart,” Sally says.

Her brother smiles. “I think so, too,” he says. “Hey, listen, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you.”

“Ask away.”

“I want to do a painting of you. A nude. Will you pose for me?”

“A nude? What the hell for? You’ve seen me in a bathing suit. You know the kind of body I’ve got. My God, Eddie, I’m a dumpster.”

“You’ve got a very strong body,” he tells her. “Good musculature. Great legs.”

“And no tits.”

“I’m not doing a centerfold. I see you sitting on a heavy stool, bending forward. Very determined, very aggressive. Against a thick red swirly background laid on with a palette knife. And you looming out. What do you say?”

“Let me think about it—okay? You’ve never seen me naked before.”

“Sure I have,” he says cheerfully. “You were five and I was seven. You were taking a shower, and I peeked through the keyhole.”

“You louse!” she cries, punching his arm. “Well, I’ve added a few pounds since then.”

“And a few brains,” he says, leaning forward to kiss her cheek. “Sogoodto see you, sweetie. But you seem down. Problems?”

“Well, you know, with ma and pa. And you.”

“Me?” he says, amused. “I’m no problem.”

“And me,” she goes on. “I’m a problem. I’m not doing what I want to be doing.”

“Which is? Making money?”

“Sure,” she says, challenging him. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

“I guess,” he says, sighing. “The bottom line.”

“You better believe it, buster. I see these guys raking in the bucks. … Like those banditos pa went to pay off tonight. I’ve got more brains than they’ve got, but they’re living off our sweat. What kind of crap is that?”

“Life is unfair,” he says, smiling and pouring them more wine.

“If you let it be unfair. Not me. I’m going to be out there grabbing like all the rest—if I ever get the chance.”

He looks at his paintings hanging on the walls. “There’s more than just greed, Sally.”

“Says who? What? Tell me what.”

“Satisfaction with your work. Love. Joy. Sex.”

“Sex?” she says. “Sex is dead. Money is the sex of our time.”

He doesn’t reply. They sit silently, comfortable with each other.

“You’re a meatball,” she says finally.

“I know,” he says. “But a contented meatball. Are you contented, Sal?”

“Contented?” she says. “When you’re contented, you’re dead. Once you stop climbing, you slide right back down into the grave.”

“Oh, wow,” he says. “That’s heavy.”

She drains her wine, rises, digs into her shoulder bag. She comes up with bills, smacks them into his palm.

“Here’s a couple of hundred,” she says. “Go buy yourself some paint and spaghetti. And a haircut.”

“Sally, I can’t—”

“Screw it,” she says roughly. “It’s not my dough. I’ll take it out of petty cash at the office. Pa will never know the difference.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Before she leaves, he embraces her again.

“You’ll think about posing for me?”

“I will. I really will.”

“I love you, Sal.”

“And I love you. Stay well and say hello to Paul for me. I’ll be in touch.”

She gets back to Smithtown a little before midnight. Goes up to her mother’s bedroom and opens the door cautiously. The night-light is on, and Becky is snoring grandly. Sally goes back downstairs to the office-den. The books for the accountant and tax attorney and IRS are kept in the office safe of Steiner Waste Control on Eleventh Avenue in Manhattan. Therealbooks are kept here, in a small safe disguised as a cocktail table.

She spends a half-hour crunching numbers, using a pocket calculator that has no memory. Profits are up over the corresponding week of the previous year. But not enough. The tax paid to the bentnoses for the right to collect garbage is a constant drain. Go sue city hall.

Next she flips through the current issue ofBarron’sto see how their equities are doing. A small uptick. Jake lets his daughter do all the investing. “I can’t be bothered with that shit.” He doesn’t know an option from a future, but he can read the bottom line. Every month. Then it’s a grudging “Not bad” or a furious “You trying to bankrupt me?”

Sally pushes the papers away on the big, leather-topped desk scarred with burns from her father’s cigars. She sits brooding, biting at the hard skin around her thumbnail.

They’re doing okay—but nothing sensational. Most people would consider the Steiners rich, but they’re notrichrich—which is all that counts. It’s not for lack of trying; the want is there. But what Sally calls the Big Chance just hasn’t come along. She can buy a thousand shares of this and a thousand shares of that, and maybe make a few bucks. Terrific.

But she’s also bought some dogs and, on paper, the Steiner portfolio is earning about ten percent annually. Hurrah. She’d be doing better if she socked all their cash away in tax exempts. But where’s the fun there? She doesn’t go to the racetracks or to Vegas; stocks are her wheel of fortune. She knows that playing the market is a crapshoot, but once tried, never denied.

Later, naked in bed, hands locked behind her head, she tries to concentrate on the Big Chance and how it might be finagled. But all she can think about is Eddie asking her to pose in the nude.

That’s the nicest thing that’s happened to her in years.

Judy Bering, the receptionist-secretary, opens the door of Sally’s office and sticks her head in.

“There’s a guy out here,” she says. “Claims he was hired and told to report for work this morning.”

“Yeah,” Sally says, “pa told me he’d show up. What’s his name?”

“Anthony Ricci.”

“Sure,” Sally says. “What else? What’s he like?”

Judy rolls her eyes heavenward. “A Popsicle,” she says.

Ricci comes in, an Adonis, carrying his cap and wearing a smile that lights up the dingy office.

“Good morning, miss,” he says. “I am Anthony Ricci, and I am to work here as a loader.”

“Yeah,” Sally says, “so I heard. My name is Sally Steiner. I’m the boss’s daughter. Sit down. Have a cigarette if you like. You got all your papers?”

“Oh, sure. Right here.”

He digs into his jacket pocket, slides the documents across Sally’s desk. She flips through them quickly.

“Everything looks okay,” she says. “You been over here six months?”

“Maybe seven,” he says. “I never want to go back.”

“You speak good English.”

“I thank you. I study hard.”

“Good for you,” Sally says. “You know what a loader does? He lifts heavy cans of garbage and dumps them into the back of a truck. You can handle that?”

Again that high-intensity smile. Ricci lifts his arms, flexes his biceps. “I can handle,” he says.

“Uh-huh,” Sally says. “We’ve had three hernias in the past year. They call you Tony, I suppose.”

“That’s right. Tony.”

“Well, Tony, the boss isn’t in right now. He’s out inspecting a new territory we just took over. He should be back soon, but meanwhile I’ll show you around. Come along with me.

As they’re going out the door, he flashes those brilliant choppers again and asks, “You married?”

“What’s it to you?” Sally says sharply.

She shows him around the dump: sheds, unloading docks, compactors, maintenance garage, shower and locker room. She leaves him with old gimpy Ed Fogleman who got a leg caught in a mulcher but won’t quit. Jake Steiner keeps him on as a kind of plant caretaker, and is happy to have him.

Sally goes back to her office, draws her third cup of black coffee of the day from the big perk in Judy Bering’s cubbyhole, and gets back to her paperwork.

She is vice president and truck dispatcher at Steiner Waste Control. She directs, controls, hires, fires, praises, berates, curses, and occasionally comforts a crew of tough men, drivers and loaders, who make a living from their strength and their sweat. They work hard (Sally sees to that), and they live hard.

But Sally does more than schedule garbage trucks. She’s the office manager. She leans over the shoulder of the bookkeeper. She solicits and reviews bids on new equipment. She negotiates contracts with old and new customers. She deals with the union and approves all the city, state, and federal bumf required, including environmental reports.

Big job. Stress. Tension. Dealing with a lot of hardnoses. But she thrives on it. Because she’s a woman making her way in this coarse men’s world of the bribed and the bribers, the petty crooks, the thugs on the take, and the smiling lads with their knives hidden up their sleeves. Sally Steiner loves it because it’s alive, with a gross vitality that keeps her alert and steaming.

At about 12:30, she runs across Eleventh Avenue and has a pastrami and Swiss on a seeded roll, with iced tea, at the Stardust Diner. She and Mabel, the waitress, exchange ribald comments about the crazy Greek chef who recently flipped a hamburger so high that it stuck to the tin ceiling.

She returns to the Steiner dump. A loaded truck is coming in, driven by Terry Mulloy, a redheaded, red-faced harp. Sitting beside him is his loader, a black named Leroy Hamilton who’s big enough to play noseguard for the Rams. Both these guys are beer hounds, and on a hot day you want to stand well upwind from them.

“Hey, Sally baby,” Terry calls, waving. “How’ya doing?”

“Surviving,” she says, walking up to the truck. “How you two putzes doing?”

“Great,” Leroy says. “We’re getting a better class of crap today. You know that restaurant on Thirty-eighth? I picked out enough steak scraps to feed my Doberman for a week.”

“Bullshit!”Sally says. “You two morons are going to have a barbecue tonight.”

They laugh. “Hey, baby,” Terry says, “when are you and me going to make it? A night on the town. Maybe a show. A great dinner. All you can eat.”

“No, thanks,” Sally says. “I got no use for shorthorns.”

She flips a hand and starts away. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Terry Mulloy yells after her.

She goes back to her office, smiling. That guy will never give up. But it’s okay; she can handle him. And she enjoys the rude challenge.

She works on the next week’s schedule, assigning drivers and loaders to the Steiner fleet of trucks. For a couple of years now she’s been trying to convince her father to computerize the whole operation. But Jake continues to resist. It’s not that they can’t afford it; he just doesn’t want to turn control over to machines; he’s got to see those scraps of paper with numbers scrawled on them.

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