Las Vegas January 25, 1960
WHEN I SPOTTED JOEY BISHOP walking toward me across the Sands casino floor, I figured he wasn't heading for a blackjack table. Although a member of Sinatra's Rat Pack--he called himself a "mascot" while Sinatra called him "The Hub of the Wheel"--Joey didn't drink or gamble, and he didn't party much. Even after the shows in the Copa Room--which Sinatra had started calling "The Summit"--while the others went out and partied the night away, Joey usually went back to his room. I'd heard him refer to himself more than once as a "Go-Home" guy.
So, to see him walking toward the blackjack tables meant one of two things: either he had a friend playing, or he was coming to see me.
I'm Eddie Gianelli. In Brooklyn they used to call me Eddie G, and I guess it was only natural the moniker would follow me to Vegas. For years I had come to Las Vegas like everybody else, to see some shows and play a little blackjack, but eventually I learned that it was Vegas itself I loved. It was the smell and the feel, the limitless food and sex and opportunities, the pulse of the place, not just the action, so twelve years ago I came and stayed. I got some jobs in casinos, working my way up to blackjack dealer in places like the Flamingo, the Desert Inn and the Sahara, but when the Sands opened its doors in 1952, I hustled my ass to put in my application for a job.The call did not come for a year, but once I got in I used five of the last seven years to work myself up to pit boss, where I am now--and pretty damned happy about it, too.
When Joey reached the tables he waved at me. We met over a covered table that had not yet been opened. It was still early in the evening, and all of the tables weren't in use yet. The slot machines, lining the walls all around us, were likewise only about half in use, with only the occasional sound of coins hitting the tray or bells going off. The slot machines were traditionally played by women--wives, girlfriends, both--who were trying to win a few bucks while their men dropped real money at the tables. Some Vegas insiders were predicting bigger things for the slots in the future, but I had my doubts about that. To me, the real money was always going to be at the table.
As usual, Joey was decked out in a suit that would have cost me a week's salary, maybe more.
"Eddie G, my buddy," Joey said, extending his hand.
"Buddy" was stretching a point. I knew Joey, of course--knew who he was, and who he hung around with, and had seen him in the casino, though never gambling. We'd had conversations and coffee together once or twice. I knew Joey like I knew a lot of people because a total of twelve years working on the strip had put me in the know.
"Joey," I said. "What can I do for you, pal?" What the hell? If he could lay it on thick with "buddy" I could do the same with "pal."
"Well, it's not exactly what you can do for me, Eddie, but for a friend of mine."
"A friend?" I knew who Joey's friends were. "Uh, just who are we talkin' about here, Joey?"
He shrugged. "I'm talkin' about Frank."
"I don't understand," I said. "What the hell would Frank Sinatra want with me?"
"Well ... can we go someplace for a cup of coffee?" Joey asked.
I checked my watch.
"I can meet you in the coffee shop in about twenty minutes. Can Mr. Sinatra wait that long?"
"Hey," Joey said, with another shrug, "if he has to wait, he has to wait. I'll see you in half an hour."
I knew that Joey Bishop was probably one of two people in Las Vegas who wasn't afraid of Frank Sinatra and his perceived connections to organized crime.
I also knew that I wasn't the second person.
I found Joey sitting alone in a booth in the back of the coffee shop. I was willing to bet that he had signed more than a few autographs while sitting there, but at the moment he was alone.
"Joey," I said, sitting opposite him.
"Thanks for coming."
The pretty waitress came over and I said, "Just coffee, Bev."
"Comin' up, Eddie."
Joey and I watched her walk away, firm ass twitching with every step. When it came right down to it, all the waitresses in the Sands were knockouts. It was something the owner, Jack Entratter, made damn sure of. Jack was a confirmed tits-and-ass man and, since I shared the same appreciation for a great set of knockers and a firm, round butt, it made working there even better, especially since most of them were single and available--and some of the married ones were, too.
As we watched Beverly walk away, the look on Joey's face never changed. He looked perpetually bored with life, even when he was performing. He was looking at her appreciatively, but one of the other things I knew about Joey Bishop was that he didn't cheat. It made him an even odder member of the Rat Pack, since those guys attracted babes like nobody's business.
"Okay, Joey," I said, "you've got my attention and nobody else can hear us. What's up?"
"Frank wants to talk to you."
"To me? Yeah, sure. What's the gag?"
"No gag, kiddo."
"What's it about?"
"That'll be between you and him."
"Now." Joey looked at his watch. "He's in the steam room."
"The steam room?"
Sinatra had had the steam room built especially for him and his pals so they'd have something to do between shooting their new movie, Ocean's 11, and their Summit show in the Copa Room. Very few people beyond those five--Frank, Dino, Sammy, Peter Lawford and Joey--were ever allowed in there.
"Yep. We can go there right now, if you want." Joey made as if to rise.
"Hold your horses, Joe." I put my hand out to stop him.
"What? You wanna finish your coffee?"
"No," I said, "I'm just not sure I wanna go and meet Frank Sinatra."
Joey got comfortable again.
"I don't know ... what could he possibly want with me?" I asked.
"Eddie," he said, leaning forward, "you're not lettin' all those stories get to you, are you?"
"You know," Joey said, touching his nose, "the Mafia, Giancana, all that stuff?"
The rumors about Frank Sinatra's connection to the mob had been around for years, even before they were supposed to have gotten him the part in From Here to Eternity that won him the Oscar and revived his career. There were many stories about that, but the one I'd heard the most was that Johnny Roselli had gone to studio head Harry Cohn's office and simply said, "Frank gets this part or we'll have you killed."
Did I believe it?
"No ... well, maybe ... I'm not all that sure ... Joey, I just don't see what Frank--Mr. Sinatra--would want with me."
"I can't tell you that, Ed," Joey said. "Only Frank can."
"Well ... I think I'm gonna have to pass, Joe," I said. "I mean ... if that's all right?"
"Sure, it's all right," Joey said, with another characteristic shrug. "You don't wanna see him, don't see him. It's no skin off my nose."
"Okay," I said, "okay."
Bev came with my coffee and put it down, then walked away. Neither Joey nor I watched her, this time.
I dug into my pocket. "Lemme get the Java--"
"Hey, I got it," Joey said, waving his hand. "Don't worry about it."
"I gotta get back to work."
"Sure," Joey said, "go."
I stood up, but didn't leave.
"You'll tell him I was, uh, flattered, but ... I'm kinda busy--"
"Hey, Eddie," Joey said, spreading his hands, "forget about it, okay?"
"Okay ... then I'll go back to work."
I started to walk away, then turned to look back at him. He was still sitting in the booth. He smiled and waved.
EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME. Copyright © 2006 by Robert J. Randisi. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.