Cathie John

Journeybook Press
Historical articles
and photographs

Little Mexico
series (read
an excerpt)

Journals of Kate Cavanaugh
series (read
an excerpt)

Authors' Bios

Links

E-mail to
Cathie & John

Where to Buy:
Independent Mystery Booksellers

Home

[photo]Little Mexico

Reviews

"Strong on conflict. It's no insult to describe it as Dynasty meets the Phenix City Story. There are beautiful, sexy, willful women, strapping, determined young men, sleazy henchmen, calculating villains, and an indomitable matron who will go to any lengths to protect her family and their casino. Throw in ambushes, call girls, corruption, assault, murder, tarot cards and a variation of the cement overcoat called a Newport Nightgown and you have a funky, lowlife pleasure. John does a good job with a variety of characters, the action is swift and uninterrupted and the final scene puts one character in an entirely shocking new light that will bring readers back for subsequent volumes."
--Drood Review

"...a fast moving and quite fascinating work ... an entertaining slice of life in America's underbelly ... (a) highly compelling plot ... It's a gem!"
--Larry Gandle, Deadly Pleasures (Anthony Award-winning mystery magazine)

"A page-turner ... an excellent read ... Little Mexico is a very enjoyable book ... entertaining, and suspenseful, with a host of interesting and likeable characters ... kudos to the author."
--Russ Isabella, Deadly Pleasures

"Little Mexico is a fast-paced novel that bursts with tension and excitement. The husband and wife writing team of Cathie John has done an impeccable job of research and it shows. Fans of their Kate Cavanaugh series will not be let down by this one."
--Toby Bromberg, Romantic Times

"The history is rich and spellbinding ... The characters are well-drawn and colorful people ... (Little Mexico) will reward you with knowledge and enjoyment. And you will enjoy learning about this relatively forgotten part of American history."
--Sally Fellows, Mystery News

"The authors have successfully adopted a much edgier, harder tone for this intended series exploring Newport's reign as 'Sin City, U.S.A.' ... The novel's historical grounding (including use of real names and events) is excellent and provides a fascinating look at how a little city found notoriety as a haven for gambling, prostitution and other crime."
--Bob Hahn, Bookbrowser and Cincinnati Post

"Cathie John kicks off a new gangster-historical series in Little Mexico, a.k.a. Newport, Ky., once the gambling Mecca of America. The year is 1943, and sailor Nick Cavanaugh, home on leave, finds himself defending independent casino owners Carl and Pearl Jules against the Cleveland Syndicate. Future volumes will carry this intriguing series into the 1960s."
--Publishers Weekly

"...its combination of real-life gangsters and an engaging plot makes for entertaining reading."
--Booklist

Excerpt

September 10, 1943
Cleveland

"The days of the mom 'n pop operations are over, Jimmy. They're sitting on a prime spot down there in Newport, so move 'em out. Capeesh?"

"Yeah, I capeesh. I'll get Lester on it right away." Jimmy "the Shiv" Turelli left the back room at Meyer's Delicatessen with his marching orders from Moe Dalitz. Not exactly the ritziest of joints, but that's where the Big Four of the Cleveland Syndicate -- Moe, Sam Tucker, Louis Rothkopf, and Morris Kleinman -- held some of their business meetings. And this had been an important one. Sam even came all the way up from Kentucky to attend it.

Jimmy picked up his usual order of pastrami, sliced thin and packed in butcher's paper, from Arnie who lived behind the counter.

"See ya, Jimmy."

"Ciao, Arnie."

Jimmy would rather be working for Italians, but Elliot Ness had busted up the Mayfield Road Mob, leaving the Jew boys to run this part of the country. So that's the way it goes in Cleveland. He grabbed a dill pickle out of the barrel on his way out.

Sam was going back to Newport in a day or two -- he'd moved there a couple of years ago in order to supervise day-to-day operations of the Beverly Hills Country Club, their biggest casino. Jimmy would like to drive down with him and personally bust Carl Jules' ass, but the boys in the back room were going for more sophisticated methods and wanted everything handled business-like.

Okay, so letters go out to Buck Brady at the Primrose Club and Carl Jules at The Oasis with nice offers -- carrots to make those two mule-headed SOBs fall into line like the others. Yeah, he'll contact Charles Lester down in Newport. Have him write it all out nice and proper. Didn't want anything in black and white looking like they were being told "Pay or Die!" He'd also contact Red Masterson, their enforcer down there in Little Mexico, with orders to nudge Buck and Carl towards those carrots.

Jimmy chomped into his pickle. Those little mom 'n pop casinos weren't so small. They were swanky places raking in lots of cash, and the Syndicate didn't like competition. Didn't matter that Carl and those others had set up shop years ago. When Moe Dalitz went down, saw how much dough flowed into places like the Beverly Hills and The Oasis, he came back to Cleveland with a mind to take it all over. Shit, the boys sure did that. Except for a handful of holdouts like Carl.

This was real sweet, Jimmy thought, as he checked his reflection in the store window. He adjusted the tilt of his new twenty-five dollar fedora, and ran his fingers along its crisp brim. Jimmy had been looking forward to going after Carl Jules for a long time. He had a personal score to settle. Yeah, send the carrot by way of a letter. But if the carrot don't work, use a stick. A big pointy stick.

And Jimmy the Shiv knew just where to shove it.

 

Newport, Kentucky

Claudette cringed inwardly at the feel of Bruno's damp paw on her neck. She knew what he was thinking. She could feel it coming right through his claw-like fingers as they pressed in on her throat -- the barely-contained desire to squeeze her windpipe until her eyes popped and her lungs gasped for air. One little squeeze. That's all it would take.

Bruno always got like this on the nights he was about to go on one of his jobs -- caught up in some private world, a brutal fantasy that put him in the mood for the work ahead. Claudette never wanted to know what grisly plans were forming in his brain.

Not that any of her other customers were all there. Most of them seemed to have their minds on something else as they banged away at her body until they were satisfied and went on their way.

She couldn't wait until he was finished. His ugly face bobbed up and down a half inch from hers. It looked like years ago someone had tried to gouge out Bruno's left cheek with a can opener. She turned away from the sight of his crooked yellow teeth and the smell of his sour breath. A moment later, Claudette heard his little grunt. Good, he's finished. She got up, wrapped a silk kimono around her body, and lit a cigarette.

Bruno grunted again as he put on his pants. "That was great, doll."

Yeah, sure. How the hell would you know? In and out, in and out. Stupid ugly jerk.

He finished putting on his rumpled suit and tossed a bill on the bed. "Here's something extra for you."

Claudette scooped it up. A crisp twenty. She smiled at him as he lumbered out her bedroom door. He may be an ugly jerk of a killer, but he was a generous one and a buck is a buck, and she didn't have to split this with Sophie. It would all go into her escape fund.

The gifts she got from soldiers and sailors on leave were nice, but silk robes and stockings weren't going to get her out of Newport, Kentucky.

"God, he stinks." Claudette grabbed her atomizer and spritzed the air with Evening in Paris -- one of those gifts.

She stepped across her tiny room and threw open the window. The acrid stench pumped out by the steel mills greeted her. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Wasn't much better out there.

A woman's laugh echoed in the street below. Claudette looked down from her second floor window and saw two women in the glow of the streetlight making their way to the corner -- a couple of Rosie Riveters dressed in overalls on their way to the midnight shift. Claudette gave them a little salute. Well, every gal's gotta do her bit for God and Country. But she sure wasn't going to sweat on the factory line like them. She was doing her sweating for her country in between the sheets. Entertaining the troops. Claudette laughed at her own thought. She was pumping up more than a soldier's morale and making a helluva lot more money at it too, that was for damn sure.

She flicked her cigarette butt out the window and, folding one leg underneath her, sat down on the cracked leather hassock and propped her elbows on the windowsill. Directly across the street from her were the neon lights of the Glenn Rendezvous. It was almost midnight and the gambling club was doing its usual business. Even though a smaller sign said HOTEL, and there were rooms available on the third floor, no guests stayed overnight. Most of them only made it up to the second floor, riding up the secret elevator hidden behind the paneled wall in the lobby.

Claudette watched a couple of men in business suits shuffle out of the club with the usual stooped posture that marked them.

"Losers." She snorted in disgust. That's almost all she ever saw coming out of Pete Schmidt's bustout joint.

The lobby doors of the Glenn Rendezvous opened and a blast of dance music escaped. On the street level, customers were having a good time eating and drinking in the supper club. It was a different story up on the second floor. Claudette could imagine the grim faces of the players huddled around the tables. The room would be silent except for the muffled music from below and the clicks of loaded dice. No way anybody beat the odds playing Razzle Dazzle.

She shook another cigarette out of its pack, lit it, and blew a smoke ring out the window into the sooty air. A view of the river and the bridges would be a helluva lot better than staring at the Glenn Rendezvous night after night. Someday, she'd take one of those bridges into Cincinnati, hop a train at Union Terminal, and not get off until it chugged into Hollywood.

Didn't seem like such a long shot, her getting into pictures. All she needed was the money to get there, and once they saw her big green eyes and pale, perfect complexion...

Claudette picked up a dog-eared copy of Photoplay off the floor and stared at the image of Katharine Hepburn on the cover. "If that scrawny, flat-chested broad could make it, no reason I can't." She threw the magazine across the room and slinked towards her own image in the mirror over her dressing table. Claudette dabbed on a fresh coat of lipstick, leaned over the dressing table showing off her deep cleavage, and pouted into the imaginary camera lens.

"Claudette?" Sophie's voice came from the hallway outside her door. "We got gentlemen guests in the parlor." The wooden floors creaked under the madam's weight as she waddled back downstairs.

Claudette pulled her silk robe across her breasts, and hugged herself. It wasn't that the night air was cold -- it was remembering the feel of Bruno's fingers gliding across her throat again that made her shiver. The man had a mind to hurt people. Liked it. Liked it too much. She looked out the window one more time. Who was Bruno going to hit tonight?

Claudette squared her shoulders, shook a mass of dark curly hair off her face with a toss of her head, and strode downstairs to meet the gentlemen guests. The losers.

 

"Goddamnit, Bruno. Stop clowning around. Let me go."

Bruno Carpella responded with a laugh as Charlie DePalma struggled with the rope binding his hands together behind his back.

Charlie kept talking. "Why you doing this to me?" Charlie had already soiled the crisply pressed trousers of his two hundred dollar suit because he knew the answer, but he couldn't believe it was happening. Not to him. Not to "Dandy" Charlie. He watched Manny dump another bag of cement into the wheelbarrow.

The dust billowed up in front of Bruno's face. He sneezed out his mouth.

Charlie felt gobs of slime hit his face.

"Sorry," Bruno said, reaching for the dress handkerchief in the breast pocket of Charlie's suit jacket. He brought it up to his nose, honked loudly into it a couple of times, then shoved the soggy linen back into place and patted the resulting bulge. "Thanks."

Charlie bit at the little fringe of a moustache adorning his upper lip. Think fast. "I can pay it all back, Bruno. Here. In my pocket." He indicated which side of his jacket with a shrug of his right shoulder.

Cocking an eyebrow, Bruno turned to the fourth thug in the basement of Cooky's disorderly house. "Check him, Al."

Al leaned the shovel he was using to mix cement against the wall and quickly relieved Charlie of a thick leather wallet. "Lots of C notes in here."

Bruno sniffed. All this dust floating around made him grouchy. Now he'd been insulted with this penny ante offer. Bruno walked across the dimly lit cellar to Al's shovel, grabbed it, and spiked it into the dirt floor. He thumbed the snap brim of his hat, pushing it to the back of his head. "Charlie? What d'ya think? I'm as fucking stupid as you are? Put yourself in my shoes. Red Masterson gives an order -- I follow through."

Charlie started trembling. Bruno smiled. This is fun.

Bruno walked towards him, dragging the shovel behind, and shaking his head from side to side. "Charlie, Charlie, why'd ya do it? You were supposed to be collecting for him, he trusted you. But how do you repay his trust? Skimming off the top ain't the way to do it."

Bruno walked right past him and pushed his shovel into the wheelbarrow full of wet cement. "What's the matter? You look a little cold, Charlie. Manny, roll that over a little closer."

Silently, Manny obeyed and rolled an empty oil drum on its rim over to where Charlie stood quaking in his boots.

Bruno tapped out a snappy rat-a-tat-tat on the metal top with his thick, yellow fingernails. "Why don't you sit in here. We'll pack you in nice and tight. Warm you up a bit."

Bruno saw a wet stain form on the front of Charlie's right pant leg, and smirked. He could see desperation in Charlie's eyes a split second before Charlie bolted for the cellar door. He didn't get more than three steps before Bruno slugged him with the shovel on the back of his head. The clang of steel against bone reverberated around the basement. Charlie was out cold.

Manny and Al caught Charlie before he hit the ground, dragged him back to the barrel, and stuffed him in, feet first. Charlie's head hung back over the rim, mouth gaping.

Bruno said, "Looks like he's waiting to have his tooth yanked."

Manny and Al snorted.

Bruno started shoveling cement into the barrel, filling it up to Charlie's chest.

Charlie groaned.

"He's coming to," Al said.

"No shit," replied Bruno. "Think I'm deaf?" He turned to his patient. "Hey, Charlie Boy, we know how you like your clothes to fit just right, so before we put you to bed. I'm making sure your nightgown is good and snug."

Bruno was getting more aroused with each shovelful he piled onto Charlie's upper torso. What a great night. Charlie started moving around, trying to get out of the barrel. Bruno swung his shovel and smashed Charlie upside the head. Charlie stopped squirming.

After packing the rest of the cement around Charlie's torso, until he was totally encased, Bruno announced, "Okay, let's just wait a while 'til things get quieter on the street."

Manny and Al pushed a few wooden crates together under the bare light bulb. Al pulled out a deck of cards and started dealing. "You playin', Bruno?"

"Nah." Bruno shoved his hands into his pockets, jingled some coins, and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes. He lit one, inhaled deeply, and blew a long stream of smoke out his nose. Bruno looked at Charlie, studying his handiwork with a feeling of deep satisfaction. As a reward for tonight's job, Red Masterson promised to give Bruno the collection duties. Thanks to the dandy in the barrel, he'd just taken his first step up the ladder in the Cleveland Syndicate's organization.

Bruno saw that the collar of Charlie's white silk shirt had soaked up the blood that trickled down his cheek from the gash on the side of his head. Bruno placed two fingers on the vein in Charlie's neck. It was still pumping.

"Can't count on this sonofabitch to stay quiet." Bruno picked up one of the paper cement mix bags and tore off a piece. He used it to scoop up a blob of partially-hardened cement that had fallen onto the floor. He opened Charlie's mouth and packed it in.

"That should do it."

 

Around 3:00 A.M., Bruno shoved Charlie's head down into the barrel and hammered the lid in place. Manny and Al laid a couple of wooden planks over the concrete cellar steps. They put the oil drum into the wheelbarrow, and pulled Charlie up the makeshift ramp and out to their truck.

They drove down Second Street, Manny in the back with their cargo, Bruno hunched over the wheel. Al, riding shotgun, peered nervously through the windshield. "Hey, Bruno," he said, "the cops still patrolling the bridge?"

"Nah. They stopped doing that. Nazis and Japs ain't gonna bomb Newport, Kentucky."

"What about the guards over on the Cincinnati side?"

Bruno glanced sideways at Al. "It's gotta be close to half a mile across that river. They ain't gonna see shit in the dark. Besides, we're only going a couple of hundred feet to the first piling." But he clicked off the truck's headlights just in case. No sense in attracting attention.

In contrast to Second Street, still active at this time of night with customers going in and out of its brothels, a block away the riverfront was dark and deserted. Bruno brought the truck to a halt at the ramshackle dock on the banks of the Ohio River. They waited, listening to the silence broken only by the sound of three wooden rowboats, tied to the dock, making soft thuds as they banged into each other.

Bruno finally said, "Okay, let's go."

Wooden planks in place, Manny maneuvered the wheelbarrow off the back of the truck and onto the dock. It took all three of them to lift Charlie into a rowboat.

Al whispered, "It's so fucking dark I can barely see what I'm doing."

"Shut your mouth," Bruno whispered back. "What d'ya want? Fucking floodlights?"

Once they were seated in the boat, Al pushed off from the dock. As Manny picked up the oars and began rowing, Bruno said, "Stay under the bridge. Just get us to that first piling."

A series of thumps sounded from inside the oil drum. Bruno looked at the hammered-down lid and imagined Charlie's head thrashing from side to side, his eyes wide open, eyeballs rolling frantically in their sockets.

It took only a few minutes to get to their destination. Al dropped anchor. A good fifty feet over their heads, two cars were crossing the bridge.

Guttural noises echoed inside the metal drum.

Bruno smiled and shook his head. "No use. Nobody's gonna hear you."

Al said, "C'mon. Let's get this over with."

"What's the matter? Not having fun?" Bruno turned to Charlie and tapped him on the lid. "Nighty night."

They tucked Charlie DePalma into the muddy waters of the O-Hi-O.

 

All material on this site is © 2000 by John & Cathie Celestri.