DECEMBER 2, 1977 8:22 A.M.
Cleveland Emmett Barksdale, Sr., the senior partner in the LaSalle Street law firm of Barksdale and DeVito, P.C., was in his corner office in the fifteen-room, thirtieth-floor suite from which his corporate practice did business. On the desk in front of him were the morning editions of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Chicago Times-Herald. It was a daily ritual for the senior partner to read each paper before the business day began. Also on top of the desk was a bone-china coffee service from which Barksdale poured himself cup after cup of strong black coffee, and a bowl-shaped brass ashtray into which the attorney dumped ashes and butts from the Marlboro cigarettes that he chain-smoked. Barksdale vowed to give up smoking as a New Year’s resolution. However, the New Year was nearly a month away. Until then, he planned to continue feeding the nicotine poison into his body.
Barksdale and DeVito, P.C., had been founded by Cleve Barksdale and Joseph DeVito in 1959. Although listed as a corporate law firm, it did not accept clients “off the street,” but had a select client list, which kept the firm on an annual retainer of $1 million per client. Seldom did attorneys from Barksdale and DeVito ever appear in any courtroom, and the work that they did for their clients was not clear to anyone outside of the firm. But they did perform valuable services. Very valuable services indeed.
On this winter morning, Cleve Barksdale was the sole surviving founding partner of the firm. Joseph DeVito had been shot to death during an invasion of his North Shore mansion in the summer of 1975. How the armed robbers managed to circumvent the alarm system and enter the house was a mystery. A fortune in jewelry, paintings, furs, and other valuables were taken, and a wall safe in DeVito’s study had been blasted open. The safe’s contents were known only to DeVito. Now, eighteen months later, the case remained unsolved.
Cleveland Emmett Barksdale, Sr. was a man of average height and weight. He had graying hair receding from a high widow’s peak, signifying his sixty years. His features were as unremarkable as the rest of him, and he would easily go unnoticed in a crowd. However, this blandness of appearance had never held him back, instead; he had used it as an asset. Most people meeting Cleve Barksdale for the first time had a tendency to underestimate him, which was a serious mistake.
Barksdale finished reading the New York Times and picked up the Times-Herald. He only glanced at the national news section before turning to the Chicagoland local news. He liked to keep abreast of the events going on in his hometown—he was a graduate of the 1939 University of Chicago law-school class—even though most of these events were as far removed from his daily life had they occurred on another continent.
Taking a sip of coffee and lighting another cigarette with a gold Dunhill lighter, which had been a birthday present from his late partner, Barksdale’s eyes fell on the lone photograph on his desk. The picture was of his grandson, Cleveland Emmett Barksdale, III. Unlike his grandfather, “Clevey,” was anything but average. In the gold frame on his grandfather’s desk, Clevey was wearing his brown and white football uniform bearing the number “57.” He was a high-school sophomore playing linebacker on one of the best teams in the state. At the age of fifteen, he stood 6?4", weighed 255 muscular pounds and had a big, square-jawed face topped by a head of thick, dark brown hair. His grandfather thought that Clevey looked like a young Ernest Hemingway, and Cleve, Sr. had plans for him. Plans which would make Clevey a great deal more successful than Cleveland Emmett Barksdale, II, whom Cleve rarely thought about anymore with anything but disdain.
Barksdale was about to return to the newspaper when his secretary buzzed him on the intercom.
“Mr. Arcadio and Mr. Lima have arrived, sir.”
“Thank you, Diana. Have them take a seat and I’ll be with them shortly.”
The two men waiting to see him had a 9:00 appointment. They were ten minutes early, but although they were the representatives of a man on his very exclusive client list, he did not plan to see them until the appointed hour. He went back to his newspaper, coffee, and cigarettes. Exactly twelve minutes later, he told his secretary to send the gentlemen in. By the time they walked through the door, the newspapers were gone and nothing but a manila folder was on the desk in front of Barksdale.
* * *
Francesco “Frankie” Arcadio entered Barksdale’s office, followed by Tony Lima. Arcadio was the nephew and sole heir of Paul “the Rabbit” Arcadio, the reigning Chicago mob boss. Paul Arcadio was Barksdale and DeVito, P.C.’s most important client.
Frankie Arcadio was a tall, well-built man with blond hair and blue eyes. He was dressed in a custom-tailored, black double-breasted suit that didn’t cost a cent less than $2,000. His white shirt was of Egyptian silk, and when he displayed his French cuffs, the embroidered monogram “F. A.” was visible beside a pair of cuff links made from ancient Roman gold coins. His black shoes possessed a mirror shine and were also custom made. When he entered the office, he had a beige cashmere overcoat draped across his shoulders like a cape. Frankie pulled the coat off with a flourish and hung it across the back of one of the attorney’s guest chairs before he sat down.
Frankie Arcadio was a sharp dresser and a handsome man, but the expensive trappings couldn’t hide the fact that he was a hoodlum and a killer.
Tony Lima was an Arcadio Family soldier, whom Paul Arcadio had assigned personally as his nephew’s driver and bodyguard. Lima was a little man with pinched features, who dressed like a cabdriver. If his appearance could be compared to an animal, he would best be described as a weasel. But Tony Lima was a very dangerous weasel.
Once they were seated, Frankie said sarcastically, “So what’s up, Counselor? Uncle Paulie said you had an urgent matter to discuss with me and Tony.”
Barksdale was all business: “Felix Albanese is about to turn state’s evidence against your uncle and his organization.”
Felix “Big Numbers” Albanese had been Paul Arcadio’s bookkeeper and confidant for ten years.
Frankie and Lima exchanged questioning glances before erupting into long, loud laughter. While their guffaws echoed through his stately office, Cleve Barksdale remained stonily silent.
When Frankie finally managed to bring himself under control, he said, “That’s bullshit, Counselor. Big Numbers ain’t crazy.”
Barksdale opened his center desk drawer and removed a compact tape recorder. Placing it on the desk blotter beside the manila file, he pressed the “play” button. There were a few seconds of silence, followed by the sound of a phone ringing. Then there was a click and:
“Hello,” a deep male voice said.
“Okay, you got me. I’ll testify, but you cops have got to protect me. If they find out, my life won’t be worth spit and I’m scared to death of that crazy Frankie. That guy’s a psycho.”
The second voice possessed a distinctive nasal quality. When Frankie heard it, he jerked forward to sit on the edge of his seat and glare fiercely at the recorder.
“Don’t worry, Felix,” the deep voice said. “I’ll take care of everything. When are you coming in?”
“At noon tomorrow. That will give me enough time to get the records you wanted together.”
“I’ll see you then and, Felix, don’t disappoint me.”
“I really don’t have a choice, do I, Ryan?”
The tape ended.
“Sonofabitch,” Frankie said softly. His eyes remained glued to the recorder as he repeated, “Sonofabitch.”
Then he exploded. Leaping to his feet, his cashmere coat falling to the floor, Frankie jumped around the office screaming, “I’m going to kill that bastard! I’m going to gouge out his eyes and cut off his balls! I’m going to feed his ass through a meat grinder! I’m going to…!”
Throughout the tirade, Cleve Barksdale sat motionless, exuding a pronounced boredom at witnessing the mobster’s antics. Tony Lima remained seated and made a couple of supportive comments that his boss didn’t hear. Finally, Frankie ran out of gas and collapsed back into his chair. His cashmere coat remained on the floor. His face was flushed and he was breathing heavily. Slowly, he regained control and pointed at the recorder.
“Where did you get that tape?”
With the same calm manner and tone he had displayed since his visitors had entered the office, Barksdale said, “That information is between your uncle and me. The other voice was that of Chicago Police Department Chief of Detectives John T. Ryan. If Mr. Albanese does provide confidential information concerning your uncle’s operation to the police, it could be quite damaging.”
A cruel smile spread across Frankie’s face. “Don’t worry about Big Numbers. He ain’t going to be talking to nobody after I get through with him.”
Barksdale did not acknowledge this statement in any way. What the Arcadios did about Felix Albanese was not his concern. He had done his job. The Arcadio account would be billed a fee of $150,000 for his professional services.
Copyright © 2000 by Hugh Holton