TOMMY SMILES GOES WEST
Tommy Smiles at Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona
Tension, the taut tension of a leash tethered to a Pit-Bull when a
litter of kittens walks by.  That was the feeling that rose through my
solar plexus to my shoulders.  Here I was, awaiting the call that would
change my world for good or for death.  I was soaked in a musty
perspiration that was brought upon by nervous anxiety.  I really hoped
it was only because I lived in Phoenix.  But, no, it was genuine fear.  
You know, the kind of fear that only a wounded soldier in a wet
foxhole knows.  Tommy Smiles was coming to see me!

I was a small-time hood in a big racket.  I started off as a gambling
degenerate who fell into the hole and began working off debts by
leaning on other football poll flunkies.  Soon it was finger breaking
and knuckle wrestling.  Knuckles turned into hands, then arms and
finally kneecaps.  I became a regular genius of the whole human
anatomy by twisting and popping cartilage for pennies on the dollar.  
It wasn’t long after that the Big Boys started to notice and I was
on my way.  Fixing dog races and shaking down 7-11’s, I was a
regular enterprise of entrepreneurship.  Of course, I always took care
to send the skim back East.  This led me, Bugsy I. Rush, into the
whispers of large circles.  Here I was, in a desert, far away from the
back door dealings of the Irish Mob, and I was about to be rung by
the top rung!  The palpitations were real, as real as a bee sting on a
winter day.

My sweaty palm almost dropped the phone when it began playing â
€œOh Danny Boy.â€�  â€œTop of the day to ya,â€� I managed.  â
€œBugsy, ‘tis me lad, Smiles from da ‘Burgh.â€�  I almost
genuflected.  Tommy Smiles was an Irish legend.  Raising himself from
the pariahs that populated the Sycamore Street Gang and the poverty
that engulfed them all, Tommy Smiles went from burning his porch for
firewood to a Union President.  Using a little luck and a lot of charms
to move to the top of the Irish Mob, his meteoric ascendancy got a
cereal named after him, “Lucky Charms.â€�  He deftly handled
crises and threats to his brotherhood with a smile and just a wee bit of
whiskey.  No one could find someone to say a bad word about
Tommy Smiles.  Or should I say, they couldn’t be found again.
Tommy Smiles was a bull of man.  He had calves that were
called cows.  His barrel chest strained the threads of his
dapper golf shirts and his head was covered by thick, dark
Irish rings that made hats look like a yarmulke on his pate.  
There were stories that misbehaving soldiers were put on
top of the refrigerator for days at a time at Tommy’s
bequest.  It became known as “Sitting on the Cooler.â
€�  Going against Tommy Smiles was like asking for a
sock in the jaw and instead getting tire-ironed in the nuts.

“Me and me Associate are leaving the airport and we
are on our way to the Arizona Biltmore.  You meet us there.
â€�  It figured Tommy and his Associate would be bedding
down at the Biltmore. The Biltmore was the roost of all the
high rolling, high-hats of the past century.  Built by Frank
Lloyd Wright in 1937, every U.S. President since Hoover
had glad handed deals along its golf course while dirty
dealing the U.S. Taxpayer.  Built with the palm tree inspired
“Biltmore Block� it transcends common hotels with
its mix of beauty and desert clean backdrop.  The list of
celebrities that have left their shadows read like a whoâ
€™s who of American pop-iconoclasts.  Irving Berlin
penned “White Christmas� here, Kennedy bedded
Monroe here and O.J. Simpson even searched for the killer
on the Biltmore’s 15th green!

I take one last blast of my whiskey, to steel my nerves, and
take the
CR-V Limo to meet them at the “Jewel of the
Desert.â€�  I arrive early and find them lost.  â€œBugsy!  
We’re at the Phoenician Resort, where are we?â€�  
Great, now I got to be the one to tell Tommy Smiles heâ
€™s lost in the desert!  â€œYe jus’ missed it...by fifty
blocks.  Turn around and come to the Biltmore on 24th
Street.  I’ll meet yinz in front.â€�  This was an ominous
sign.  It got me wondering what Tommy Smiles and his
Associate were really doing here.  Sure, he had mention
something about “Union business,� but that entails a
lot of stuff.  Maybe he was here to take a bigger slice of my
action, maybe it was to take all of my action.  Maybe I had
gotten too big for my kilts and I was about to be kilt!  I just
hoped he didn’t have a refrigerator with him!  I was
starting to feel like a potato with the foil being slowly
wrapped.
Tommy Smiles and his Associate pull up in front of the Biltmore and I
go to greet them.  â€œGreat to see ya Smiles!  How’s the family?
â€�  â€œYou should know, you’re in it!â€�  He retorts.  I
glance over at his Associate and notice he has already given me the
once over.  Tommy turns to me and says, “Bugsy, meet my right
arm...â€�  â€œTommy, I’m shaking it!â€�  â€œNo, you idiot,
my Associate here!â€�  â€œOh, sorry!â€�  â€œThis is Billy â
€œThe Bruiserâ€� Cagney.  He handles the difficult side of the
business.  â€œYour name is not really Cagney, is it?â€�  I do my
best James Cagney impression, “So ya roughed up my sister, you
dirty rat.â€�  He is not impressed.  â€œSo Billy, how do you like this
Arizona weather?â€�  â€œWeather?  You call this weather?  You
people don’t know what weather is!  I remember one time in a
Pittsburgh blizzard I ran over a body that fell off a truck!â€�  
Hmmm....oookay there Billy.  â€œSo what would you guys like to do?
â€�  Bruiser pipes in, “Grand Canyon!â€�  â€œYou know, at
this time of year, the Grand Canyon has four-foot of snow.â€�  â
€œWhat the...?  We just came from snow; we are not going to see
snow!â€�  Well that saves me eight hours driving.  â€œThey have a
big car auction in Scottsdale, we could...â€�  â€œScottsdale! Yeah,
Scottsdale, I hear good things about Scottsdale.â€�  Of course we
locals call it “Snottsdale.�

So we’re off to the world famous
Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction.  
This is where you can buy “Herbie the Love Bugâ€� or â
€œWoody’s Allen Sleeper Carâ€� or even, something
goofier.  
But these guys are only interested in the black sedans of yesteryear
and gangster movies.  We wander the acreage and listen to Bill the
Bruiser say things like, “You know how many bodies I could put
in that trunk?� or “I used to have one of dese cars until the
bullet holes let in too much cold.â€�  We look at a thousand cars.  
Not one is less than $100,000!  These guys want to buy four or five
of them.  But, I remind them of the 35 hour drive home.  â€œHey
Bugsy, you have minions that could drive them home for us right?â
€�  I spend the rest of the day explaining why I have no minions.  We
meet the Arizona Cardinal Cheerleaders and the girls make a play for
us.  I remind them that we’re Steelers fans and we now hate the
Cardinals for stealing our whole coaching staff.  Besides, I’m
engaged!  This doesn’t dissuade them from insisting that we take
pictures with them.
The World Famous Arizona Biltmore
Billy the Bruiser & Tommy Smiles
Later on that night we meet the third wheel of the â
€œTricycle of Terror.â€�  His name is, of course, Max.  â
€œMurderous Max of North Phoenixâ€� ended up in
Phoenix through the Witness Protection Program.  He made
a whack on some big boss in Philly and the Feds relocated
him here just to say, “Thanks.â€�    Max wore his age
well despite his penchant for hard drinking and soft
landings.  Max smiled more than “Smilesâ€� himself.  
He was now pretending to be a low level stock broker for
Chucky Schwab.  But this kind of backdoor access to Wall
Street kept the millions flowing to the Organization and to
his Cayman accounts.  Max was in a word, “a hoot.â
€�  He would tell embarrassing stories about Tommy â
€œSmilesâ€� all night.  Like, when Smiles would nod off in
meetings and then wake up with a start and request a beer
and everything that was said about him.  I had taken a hard
drive full of photos with Max and the guys and was planning
on including them in this story but somehow my computer
was hacked and crashed!  Thereby causing me to reload
every program that I had and losing all the digital photos
that were on it!  Now, I’m not saying that this had
anything to do with Max, but, there is not one remaining
photo of his mug to be found.  The Witness Protection
Program doesn’t mess around!  (Note: This really
happened to my computer!  The photos that you see were
all taken with my old 35MM Nikon hard copy camera.)  
All photos of the guys in various states of inebriation are
also gone.  Man, these guys are good!

The next couple of days they blew me off for conferences
with the International Big Boys and endless rounds of golf.  
While they meandered around the fairways of Scottsdale
and were wined and dined by an assortment of lackeys and
suck-ups, I went back to work in the salt mines of my
existence.  It’s tough doing the dirty work in the bowels
of the Irish Mob.  I spend most of my days backslapping
and backstabbing while watching over my shoulder.  
Sometimes the paranoia strikes so close you find yourself
jumping sideways.  Other times, you’re sprawled dead
drunk in a chair with cigar ashes on your belly and some
twist on your lap.  There’s no in between.  You crack
open a can of worms and it turns into a barrel of monkeys!  
And if you don’t swing with them...you’re up a
tree...without a paddle!
Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction
The last day of Tommy Smiles visit.  He decides that he wants to see
the countryside.  I bring my Dame to buffer the tension.  The girl can
talk!  She’ll find out more about Smiles than a team of FBI
investigators armed with heat lamps and phone books.  We leave the
Valley and head north and up.  I try to make small talk about business
without venturing into the big picture.  The less I know, the safer I
am.  Not the Missus!  She’s pumping Smiles for information like
a ’46 Chevy truck tire.  â€œWhere’d you guys go last night?  
How come your wife is not here?  How many people do you rule
over?  What is a brickbat?â€�  Tommy is tugging at his collar and
shooting looks at me that don’t bode well for my future.  Finally,
he says, “Are we there yet?!â€�  Wherever I am, we are there.  â
€œYeah, yeah Tommy, take a look at this.â€�  I look at the next
road sign, it says, “Montezuma’s Castle.â€�  I take the exit
and we drive past a big casino.  â€œIs this where we are going?â€�  
Tommy asks.  I start worrying about Tommy having a bad day at the
casino and what it could mean.  I decide we are going to see this
Castle, whatever it is.  â€œNo Tommy, ‘tis right up the road.â€�  
We drive another mile and pull into the parking lot.  Tommy pays the
admission for us, because that’s the kind of guy he is.  We stroll
down this path past barrel cacti, mesquite trees and Arizona
sycamores, but I don’t see no “Castle.â€�  Tommy keeps
looking back at me, “Where’s dis Castle?â€�  â€œA little
further.â€�  I’m about to take off running when all of sudden it is
there!  Half way up the thousand feet canyon wall, a staggering Indian
ruin is built right into the wall!  It contains forty rooms and has no
discernible way of getting to it.  It is truly amazing.  Even Tommy
Smiles is impressed.  â€œI bet my Local 95 Engineers could build an
elevator to it.â€�  Tommy says with pride.  â€œOkay, bin dare, seen
dat.  What’s next?â€�
We get back in the CR-V Limo and head to God’s
country…Sedona.  Sedona has been called the most
beautiful view in America (Grandview Avenue in Pittsburgh
is number three).  With its towering spires and monolithic
iron-rusted rock, Sedona draws artists, movie makers and
weekend tourists from Phoenix to stand in awe of Godâ
€™s handiwork.  We do all of the touristy things.  Photos
in front of
Bell Rock, lunch at the Hideaway and shopping
in the square.  But it is our visit to the
Chapel of the Rock
that brings a misty eye to Tommy Smiles.  Its incredible
architecture bored into the red rock inspires the faithful of
all walks of belief and humbles the masses.  Tommy Smiles
wants to go in and
light a candle to the friends that have
been lost and to his beloved Mother.  It’s very touching
watching this man of power and privilege become humbled
by the serenity of greater things.  Me, I’ve been here a
hundred times.

The fading light tells me we should get going back down the
mountain.  We head around the curve and Tommy spots a
trail.  â€œPull over!â€�  I pull over wondering what is
wrong.  Tommy gets out of the Limo and starts wandering
down the path.  We follow.  As we trudge through the mix
of high-elevation snow and red clay, I begin to worry that
Tommy has sinister plans for me and the Missus.  We are
now way off the beaten path when he turns to me and says,
“This is a good place to bury bodies…â€�  He laughs.  
The taut tension has risen again!  I look around like I can
get away.  I know I’m trapped.  The Missus is
oblivious to her peril!  She says, “
Tommy, my Nikes are
dirty.  Can we go now?â€�  â€œSure, I just like to walk,â
€� Tommy says with a wink.  â€œWhat the…?  You
mean you’re not going to kill us and leave us to rot so
the
javelinas can eat us?â€�  I stammer.  â€œKill you?  
You’re my nephew, idiot!  Your Mother would string
me up like cheese!  Here we are having a nice visit and you
say something like that!  You ought to be ashamed!â€�  I
am dumbfounded, “Um, I was just kidding Uncle Tom!  
I just thought it would make this a better story rather than
you just seeing the sights.â€�  â€œYou and your
imagination, I must have kept you on top of that refrigerator
too long!�