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By Chuck Hogan
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In the late 1970s, The Outfit has the entire city of Chicago in its hands. Tony Accardo is its fearless leader. Nicky Passero is his loyal soldier, though no one knows he has a direct line in to the boss of bosses. When the Christmas gift Accardo got for his wife, an inscribed bracelet with gold and diamond inlay, is stolen along with other items in a jewelry heist, Nicky is charged with tracking down and returning all of the items—by whatever means necessary.
Forced into an impossible situation, Nicky must find a way to carry out Accardo's increasingly unhinged instructions and survive the battle for control of Chicago. What Accardo doesn't know: Nicky has a secret which has made his life impossible and has put him in the pocket of the FBI.
Based on the true story of Tony Accardo, the longest‑reigning mob capo in history, Gangland is a Shakespearean-esque drama of integrity, lost honor, and revenge. Gritty and action‑packed, it is the ultimate gangster tale and Chuck Hogan's most thrilling novel yet.
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Cop detail's watching the house—I shoulda warned you," Sam Giancana said.
Balding, paper skinned, and sickly, the sixty-seven-year-old former boss of the Chicago Outfit picked his way down the basement stairs ahead of Nicky.
"No shit," said Nicky. "I didn't see it."
The tan Coronet sedan had been parked on the opposite side of South Wenonah Avenue, two houses back from Giancana's brick bungalow. Nicky had been sitting low in his '74 Plymouth Satellite, parked four houses down from the unmarked Coronet. Long enough to see Giancana's daughter and her husband leave with two Outfit guys Nicky knew but not well, Butch Blasi, a longtime Giancana confidant, and Chuckie English. The wine must have flowed at dinner, because everyone looked happy as they paired off into their cars and drove away. Ten minutes later, the Coronet came to life, swinging around in a U-turn and leaving its post well before the end of its midnight shift. Nicky'd ducked down onto his right shoulder when the Coronet rolled past him, then sat back up, waited ten minutes to be sure, and carried his shopping bag up the street to Giancana's side entrance. It was June 19, 1975.
"Anyways," said Nicky, "my plate number's nothing new to them."
Giancana had Nicky's bag in his hands as they descended. Two steps in front of and below Nicky, Giancana's ashen scalp showed blemishes of aging through his wispy hair. "You're bringing food to a sick friend! So fuck 'em. This from Caputo's?"
His real name was Gilormo Giangana, also known as Momo, also known as Mooney, Outfit boss from 1957 to 1966, early supporter of and later antagonist of John F. Kennedy, sometime companion to famous popular songstresses. Sam G. was world famous, but at age sixty-seven he'd hit a rough patch. After almost a decade in exile in Mexico, he'd been unceremoniously deported back to the States. Then his gallbladder went. Blood clots followed, and it was touch and go for a while. All this had aged him.
Nicky came off the stairs into a basement apartment redolent of tobacco smoke and the woolly essence of old man. Giancana owned the house, set on the corner of Wenonah and Fillmore in suburban Oak Park, but chose to live only in the part that was underground. Nicky knew other old-timers who lived the same, guys who had spent most of their lives avoiding being watched. Guys who didn't want to feel any eyes on them.
Giancana had made a fortune during his exile in Mexico, something to do with casinos overseas. At least that was what everyone said, him most prominently among them. Or else it was a nut of truth wrapped in a caramel of bullshit, like Sam G.'s CIA tales. Globe-trotting multimillionaires with CIA connections rarely live in their basements.
That said, he had it furnished with everything he needed. Nicky never got farther than the kitchen, which was complete. Through one doorway he saw a television and a humidor, some framed golf tee flags on the wall. A coatrack on which hung a fedora like the ones he wore when he was the boss. The other way, Nicky saw the foot of a bed and the back of another TV, the open door to a bathroom with a stand-up shower. Caretakers lived in the main part of the house upstairs, an older couple who would come down in the morning and make the dirty dishes in the sink go away. And he had three grown daughters to take him out to places now and then. There were worse ways to play out your string.
Some people—not Nicky—wondered why a guy with money like that would return to the city he used to run, rather than anywhere else in this beautiful land. Some people thought it strange, even suspicious. But Nicky understood. Home was home. It was the streets and the language and the people you knew. It was the markets and the food. It was the familiar. But it was still some questionable decision-making.
Giancana unpacked the grocery bag on the counter next to the sink full of dinner dishes. "Sausage. Escarole. You take orders good, Nicky. A lost art."
Nicky pulled out a chair with a soft backrest and sat at a table for four, upon which stood a porcelain creamer and glass shakers of pepper and salt. Nicky wore a short-sleeve white cotton button-up under a light jacket with a navy nylon outer shell, which he did not remove. The .22 sat snugly against the small of his back in the waistband of his slacks, the suppressor weighing down his left jacket pocket like a long roll of quarters. He sat with his right forearm resting on the table, his hands touching nothing.
"Getting your strength back," said Nicky. "Having people over and still hungry afterwards. A good sign."
"Blasi and English. My Francine and her husband. I'm up to here with the concern, but they insisted." Giancana splashed what was left of an open bottle of red wine into a juice glass, brought it over to Nicky. "This is good red."
Nicky accepted the glass and placed it on the table.
Giancana opened his refrigerator, showing Nicky. "Look at this. Francine, my youngest, she went through and took away anything and everything with the littlest bit of taste. She wiped me out."
"She's concerned," said Nicky. "I don't know—maybe you should eat bland."
"Eat bland," said Giancana with a sneer. "I should live bland and be bland. This was your idea!"
"I know it. But I don't wanna be responsible for no health setbacks."
"A snack, a tastari," said Giancana, slicing open the package of sausage with a tomato knife. "Look at me."
"You did drop a lot of weight. I thought maybe it was all a gambit, you know? A ploy. Get out of the grand jury thing and put the crime commission off your back."
"It was as real as it fucking gets, my friend. Hand to God, I had one foot in Mount Carmel. My doctor in Houston looking at me like there was gonna be a free bed in about five minutes." He was rinsing out a fry pan. "I don't need no health ruse to keep my mouth shut. I did a long fucking year for not talking. And the thanks I got? A one-way ticket outta town." He turned on the hissing gas burner and ignited it with a match—bwomph. The tile backsplash near the oven burner was tanned from spattered grease. "No, I stood up. Unlike some." He wiped his hands on a damp dishrag. "A little late-night snack, Nicky, huh? This is gonna be good."
Nicky heard a smattering of laughter from a television somewhere above him. The caretakers must be hard of hearing. No movement.
Nicky said, "Unlike who?"
Giancana turned halfway around. "Huh?"
"You said unlike some. Who?"
Giancana said, "Not you, Nicky. You did your bid. I'll tell you a story—you like stories. Capone, right? He goes away for his tax thing in '32. Frank Nitti too, same time. Capone gets something like eleven years, he's gone. Nitti, only eighteen months. Year and a half, not bad at all. And when Nitti gets out, he's made boss—it's waiting for him. All good, right? But—what happened in there? Prison went to Nitti's head, and he's got—what is it? He's a claustrophobe. Tight spots—he gets anxious. He sweats. Hides it. It was never talked about, but we knew. It was known. So he's careful like a nun, a sister takes a vow of silence, because he doesn't wanna go back—he can't. Puts everyone else on edge around him, tightens things up. But guess what? A matter of time, he gets tangled up in a thing. Projectionists' union, extorting movie studios—a great racket until the indictments came down. He's on the hook. But he knows—he can't go back in the box. Can't do it. Just the thought of it…"
Giancana laid two fat sausages in the pan, then returned to chopping up the escarole next to the rinsed ceci beans, working mostly with his back to Nicky.
"Day before the grand jury, he sends his wife—his new wife, his other one died, Anna or Annette, this was the new one. Anyway, sends her to church, say a novena, say the rosary. And so she goes. He drops something like a pint of the good stuff, just blotto, stumbles outta the house, over to a rail yard in North Riverside—and shoots himself in the face three times. Three fucking times, Nicky! In his own fucking face!"
Nicky pictured it, a 1940s crime boss, dapper and spit shined, tripping across the rail yard—maybe a childhood spot of his, or he just couldn't think of a better place to go out—stopping, turning his gun on himself, looking at that muzzle, wanting it, blasting away at his face—once—twice—and again—until his trigger finger stopped squeezing.
Nicky said, "Three does seem a little extreme."
"I mean, look at me," Giancana said over his shoulder. "I'm a fuckin' psychopath. Why army doctors kept me out of the war. A documented fuckin' psychopath who army doctors are afraid of—and I couldn't do that to myself!"
It made Nicky smile to think of this man in loafers and an oxford shirt, dishrag over his shoulder, as a scary fucking recruit grown men didn't want to be in the same room with, but Nicky believed it just the same. He was glad not to have known Sam Giancana in his prime—or Capone, or target-practice Nitti for that matter—back in the Wild West days.
"Now, Capone, different story, but the same result. They let him out earlier than his eleven years because the syphilis had eaten away his brain like a rat on a wheel of cheese. Fonzo was fucking gonzo. He was like a kid again, couldn't care for himself. A fat, angry, syphilitic kid. They took him down to Florida after he got out, and never once did he come back home. Not once." Giancana knocked on the side of his head, working the spatula with his other hand. "Loony bird. What I'm saying is, heavy sits the crown—where was I going with all this? Accardo—right. You don't know Joe Batters the way I do."
Nicky said, "I know him not at all."
"Now, Tony Accardo, see, I was his wheelman when he took over soon after Nitti. After the Kefauver hearings in '51, he got heat for the mansion he was living in, with a bowling alley and billiard rooms and these fucking parties he'd throw, forget it—and he thinks I lived too big in my day? But he had an IRS scare, same as Capone, who he learned from, and knew not to play with that. Next man up is me. 'Cause I earned—I earned so much, Nicky. The fifties, it was all wide open if you had the nuts, if you had the cheese up here, and boy, I had both. But Accardo, he never really stepped aside—only stepped back. I still hadda go to him and Ricca"—Giancana crossed himself out of respect for Paul "the Waiter," who had dropped dead two and a half years before—"for all the major moves. So they got all the sway, and I'm out front taking bullets for them. And when the heat came down, and I did the right thing and kept my fuckin' trap shut—I do my year for contempt—I'm thrown over. I'm out, exiled. Then who? Battaglia. And Milwaukee Phil, remember him? To a man, every one of them, prison. See the pattern here? Now do me a favor. Guess how many nights Tony Accardo's spent in jail. You guess. I'll give you a hint."
"None is the answer. Never spent one night in jail. Think on that. Not once. What's it telling you?"
"That he's got this city buttoned up tight. Police chiefs to judges and aldermen—"
"The butcher, baker, the candlestick maker—sure, but all for him." Giancana waved his spatula like a magic wand. "All for him. I feel for you, and worse for the young guys coming up like you. Because Tony Accardo is not risking nothing for nobody. For the simple reason, he's got too much to lose. Go to prison now? Do eighteen months now, like a boss's supposed to? Nicky, he's seventy. Never broke his fuckin' cherry. And now it's a burden. Now he's just runnin' out the clock."
Nicky shrugged. "I wouldn't know. But you would."
"You bet I would. I ever take winters off, go to Palm Springs? Do you? He's a fuckin' banker now or something, I dunno. What a life he's got."
"He's the Chairman. But I'm saying, with all he owns and controls, what's there for him to worry about?"
"For him? Weakness from within. Somebody who's seen enough and maybe had enough. Or gets tagged on another thing and can't take the pinch. The only real danger."
"You mean—a snitch."
"It's what the whole thing is built on. Trust. You're as strong as your weakest man. All it takes to knock down the top boss is one fuckin' fink." Giancana turned the heat down to a simmer. "Get me two plates, will ya? You want more wine, I can open up a—"
The pistol, front-heavy now from the suppressor Nicky had quietly screwed on, jerked in Nicky's hand as he fired a round into the back of Sam Giancana's head from three feet away.
Giancana's head snapped forward, chin to chest, and all at once his body dropped to the floor with no attempt to break its fall.
Nicky stood in the center of the kitchen, his gun arm dropping to his side. In his ears and in his mind the report was loud and still reverberating. The sound of the body dropping to the linoleum—dead before it hit the floor—was the kind of complicated noise that makes people take notice.
He listened for television laughter, which he did not hear. Only a crackling, popping noise, like the aftereffects of an electrical explosion, voltage sizzling, but it was just the sausages cooking on the stovetop.
Nicky moved quickly even as he told himself to go slow. Giancana lay on his front with one arm under his chest and his legs crossed at the ankles, blood dampening the only real hair he had, on the back of his head. Wedging a scuffed leather shoe under Giancana's ribs, Nicky rolled him off the arm, laying him out flat on his back. Giancana's swollen eyes stared upward, lips parted, blood filling in the linoleum grooves of the floor. The .22 round had not exited the front of his skull.
The next part, Nicky wasn't proud of. Six shots, fired into Sam Giancana's mouth and face. It was over fast, sound and smoke hanging in the kitchen with the food smell, Nicky's hand thrumming from the energy emitted by the .22.
He looked up at the low ceiling, listening, unable to trust the pounding in his head.
Television laughter. He was good.
Nicky dumped the wine into the sink and used Giancana's damp dishrag to wipe the juice glass clean, adding it to the dirty dishes. He wiped down the .22 and its suppressor, dropping the towel and the target pistol into the paper bag from Caputo's, which he took with him, leaving the food simmering on the stove.
He didn't run. It was a short distance back to his car, but a long walk. The keys dropped down out of the visor, and the engine turned over and he drove away. With the shopping bag in the passenger seat next to him, Nicky turned left on Lexington and got on Harlem, crossing the Eisenhower, a straight shot north into River Forest, another plush suburb, about a fifteen-minute drive.
He replayed everything, every step of it, and couldn't see any slipups. He had gamed everything out ahead of time, many times, including ways it could go wrong. He alternated between reliving the job and making sure to focus on the road so he could get where he was going. This wasn't over yet.
He parked two blocks away on Lathrop, to be safe, getting out without the bag or the gun, walking the rest of the way to Ashland Avenue along a sidewalk set back from the curb by a lane of grass twice as wide, trees planted every ten yards or so. A cool, clear night. Number 1407 was a low-slung modern home, another corner lot, this one with a wide crescent-shaped driveway and an attached three-car garage. Nicky had driven past a few times out of curiosity but had never been inside. It always struck him that you wouldn't think the boss of bosses would live on a suburban street like and among normal people.
The doorbell chimed inside. Nicky's right hand still felt a little juiced from the gunshots, his mouth dry.
The man who answered the door was tall and silver haired, maybe seventy, looking at Nicky through owl-like eyeglasses with extra-wide lenses. He wore a light sweater with a cowl collar.
"Yes?" he said.
"Mr. Accardo?" said Nicky. "He's expecting me."
"Yes, and-a you are?"
Nicky's mouth opened, but he wasn't sure if he should give his real name. "I'm Nicky Passero."
"Mr. Passero, come right in."
The door opened fully, and Nicky stepped into the foyer. A hallway went straight ahead, with coral-colored carpeted stairs rising to the right. A tiny wooden table near the door held a small bronze elephant with trunk curled back like it was full of water, next to a crystal dish of soft pastel dinner mints. The houseman closed the door, and Nicky saw himself reflected directly to his right in a wall of mirrored panels framed in chrome.
Nicky's eyes looked a little larger than usual, as though he'd just had a close call out on the road. He swiped back a forelock of dark hair and relaxed his shoulders. His face, too long and too broad at the same time, his mouth thick and wide, looked like a mask to him, reflected so starkly in this ornate mirror. He thought his jacket made him look like a gas station attendant or an automobile valet. He pulled in his gut. With this all behind him now, all the stress, he should eat smarter.
"My name is Michael, Michael Volpe," said the houseman. "May I take-a your jacket?" he said, perhaps reading Nicky's lingering self-appraisal.
"No, I'm okay. Oh—or do you…?" Nicky lifted up the hem all the way around to show his waistband was clear, no weapon. But Volpe quickly shook his head; there was no need. He led the way to the first doorway on the left.
"Mr. Passero is here," he announced.
Still solid at almost seventy, Tony Accardo wore an after-dinner robe—scarlet satin, though on him it somehow looked neither fancy nor quaint—over his daytime dress shirt and suit pants. Up close, Nicky saw that the silvering hair ran back from an untroubled forehead, the long ears drooped. Deep lines slanted below the broad nose, framing his colorless lips. His arms hung a little too long for his stout torso; his legs stood a little too short. His broad shoulders stooped in a grandfatherly way. Accardo was always shorter than Nicky expected, each time they met, looking like any pit boss or haberdasher Nicky had ever come across. He was pouring two rocks glasses on a sideboard bar.
"Nicky Pins," he said. "Scotch good?"
It was already poured, so it wasn't a choice. Volpe exited the room behind Nicky, silently. Nicky wanted the drink, but first he stepped up to Accardo, not wanting to make any mistakes.
"I hadda give him my real name," Nicky said quietly.
"Who, Michael?" Accardo waved it off with a thick, mitt-like hand. "Michael's been with me since he stepped off the boat from Palermo forty years ago. Part of the family. Here."
Accardo handed Nicky his drink. They exchanged a half salute, glasses raised, and Nicky threw back a sneaky large gulp, exhaling softly through gritted teeth after. Accardo took a smaller bite, nodding after swallowing. "There it is," he said. "The first one's always the roughest goin' down."
Nicky nodded. "Thank you," he said, and drank again.
"Let's take these out back," said the boss of bosses. "Come with."
The backyard was more expansive than Nicky had guessed from the street, its perimeter marked off by trees inside and outside a six-foot-tall iron fence. An in-ground swimming pool was lit from below, the surface shimmering, ripples being put forth by a squirrel paddling for its life along the deep-end wall, pointy head and tiny paws struggling to stay above water.
"Every morning," said Accardo, who had lit a cigar, sitting in a mesh-backed lawn chair on the other side of the glass-topped table from Nicky, facing the pool and the yard, "a drowned squirrel. This is why, right here. Evening swim. Michael!"
Nicky watched as the old houseman retrieved a long-handled mesh skimmer from a rack on the side of a small pool shed. He scooped up the squirrel, which spread its limbs on the mesh as if it were in free fall. Volpe rotated the long arm over the grass and laid it down. The exhausted rodent hopped off, slick with water. It shook off a bit, then scampered away in tiny, leaping arcs.
"No thank you, nothin'," grumbled Accardo, watching it go. "Typical."
Volpe returned the skimmer pole to the shed rack and made his way back to the patio. Nicky took another sip, finishing his drink, having declined the boss's offer of a cigar. Accardo picked up a fly swatter off the table.
"I think Mr. Passero here could use another," said Accardo, and Nicky gratefully handed Volpe his glass, the houseman stepping inside, leaving them alone.
Accardo looked at the sky. "Not too humid tonight," he said. "I like this."
"No," said Nicky, "it's nice."
The fly swatter switched back and forth on his leg. Smoke drew bugs.
Accardo said, "Nice and quiet back here, summers."
"Private," said Nicky, nodding. "Real nice."
Volpe reappeared, this time with a double. Nicky thanked him and set the drink down on the table glass. He felt as if he were in a state of suspended animation. He wanted to do well here, and he also wanted it to be over so he could leave. He and Accardo knew each other but not well.
Volpe went back inside and slid the door closed.
"So," Accardo said. "No problems?"
"None. None at all."
"I did like you said exactly. Six times in the face. Message sent."
Accardo took another puff. He didn't inhale; he just took the smoke in his mouth for the flavor, then expelled it, watching it float away into the night.
"He say anything?"
"Not really," said Nicky.
Nicky shook his head. It seemed better not to report what Giancana had said to him, better than the boss knowing Nicky knew something he maybe shouldn't. "He talked a lot. But didn't say much."
"Sounds like him," said Accardo. "Nothing about going down to Washington tomorrow on a flight chartered by the government, testifying?"
"Not specifically. Not even generally. No."
Accardo nodded. "But nothing he said about me?"
Accardo expected Nicky to say something, but the play here was ignorance. "He told me a story about Frank Nitti."
"About Frank? What story?"
"Him getting stir crazy from prison, shooting himself in the face."
"Why would that be on his mind, I wonder?"
Nicky nodded. "Fair point."
Accardo blew more smoke. Flies buzzed near, but he was waiting to pick out one he liked.
"Why come back to Chicago?" said Accardo. "Right? Lotta places Mooney could've gone. Year-round sun. He comes here? For what? To tell me he decided he don't need to pay his split from his casino doings? And then—then the FBI gives him grand jury immunity? Immunity from prosecution? After getting him deported outta Mexico? On top of which—a health scare? See, that's the trickiest one. Staring eternity in the face, Nicky Pins, it makes a man think."
"Him it just made hungry."
Accardo looked sideways at Nicky. The drink had loosened Nicky considerably. He had been tense before; now he was going the other way. But Accardo didn't seem to mind.
"Good, then," said the boss, which seemed to be the final word on the subject. "What's done is done. You know what Capone called me, why he made me his wheelman when he saw what I could do? Capable. That's what he said I was. You're capable, Nicky. That's a very good thing to be. Capable is how you move up."
This was all Nicky wanted to hear. Still, he wasn't quite ready for it. "Thank you," he said.
"You did good, and won't nobody connect it up. Because this here"—he pointed the fly swatter at each of them, back and forth—"don't exist. A good thing we got, you and me. Nobody knows. Better that way. No ties."
"But you know that I know. How capable you can be."
"I appreciate that."
The door slid open behind them, Volpe stepping out with the decanter of scotch in his hands. Accardo said, "Very good, yes, Michael. Michael stayed late on account of you. How about one more for Mr. Passero here. He don't live far. Where's home, Nicky Pins?"
"Over by the basilica. Avondale."
"Right, right," said Accardo, remembering. "How we met."
"I don't wish it on my enemies," said Accardo, a smile in his voice. "Strong willed, my Clarice. Takes a strong man."
Accardo's wife, Clarice, a showgirl when they'd met, never forgot her Polish heritage, and liked to go to Sunday mass at the basilica now and then and occasionally drag along her husband. Nicky's wife, Helena, a department store clerk in ladies' wear when they'd met, sang in the basilica choir at high mass and usually dragged along her husband. Nicky would see the boss of bosses sitting in the pew with his hat in his lap and, despite the fact that Nicky was several rungs down the ladder and basically unknown to him, conspired one day to make a move.
- On Sale
- May 30, 2023
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Grand Central Publishing