|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
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"Oh Danny Boy." "Top of the day to ya,"
I managed. "Bugsy, 'tis me lad, Smiles from da "Burgh."
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." 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." 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." 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 who;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." I arrive early and
find them lost. "Bugsy! We're at the Phoenician
Resort, where are we?" Great, now I got to be
the one to tell Tommy Smiles he's lost in the desert!
"Ye jus' missed it...by fifty blocks. Turn around
and come to the Biltmore on 24th Street. I'll meet
yinz in front." 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 did'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. "Great to see ya
Smiles! How's the family?" "You should know, you're
in it!" 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..."
"Tommy, I'm shaking it!" "No, you idiot, my
Associate here!" "Oh, sorry!" "This is Billy "The
Bruiser" Cagney. He handles the difficult side of the
business. "Your name is not really Cagney, is it?"
I do my best James Cagney impression, "So ya
roughed up my sister, you dirty rat." He is not
impressed. "So Billy, how do you like this Arizona
weather?" "Weather? 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!" Hmmm....oookay there Billy. "So what
would you guys like to do?" Bruiser pipes in,
"Grand Canyon!"You know, at this time of year,
the Grand Canyon has four-foot of snow." "What
the...? "We just came from snow, we are not going to
see snow!" Well that saves me eight hours driving.
"They have a big car auction in Scottsdale, we could...?
Scottsdale! Yeah, Scottsdale, I hear good things
about Scottsdale." Of course we locals call it
"Snottsdale."So we're off to the world famous
Barrett-Jackson AutoAuction. This is where
you can buy "Herbie the Love Bug" or "Woody's
Allen Sleeper Car" 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." 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. "Hey Bugsy, you have minions that could
drive them home for us right?" 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
|Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction
|Later on that night we meet the third wheel of the
"Tricycle of Terror." His name is, of course, Max.
"Murderous Max of North Phoenix" 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."
Max wore his age well despite his penchant for
hard drinking and soft landings. Max smiled
more than "Smiles" 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." He would
tell embarrassing stories about Tommy "Smiles"
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!
|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. "Where'd you guys go last
night? How come your wife is not here? How
many people do you rule over? What is a brickbat?"
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?!" Wherever I am, we are
there. "Yeah, yeah Tommy, take a look at this."
I look at the next road sign, it says, "Montezuma's
Castle." I take the exit and we drive past a big casino.
"Is this where we are going?" 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.
"No Tommy, 'tis right up the road." 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."
Tommy keeps looking back at me, "Where's dis
Castle?" "A little further." 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. "I bet my
Local 95 Engineers could build an elevator to it."
Tommy says with pride. "Okay, bin dare, seen dat.
|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
God'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. "Pull over!"
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!" 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?" "Sure, I just
like to walk," Tommy says with a wink. "What
the? You mean you're not going to kill us and
leave us to rot so the javelinas can eat us?" I
stammer. "Kill 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"
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." "You and your imagination, I must
have kept you on top of that refrigerator too long!"