Vegas or Moscow? One of my short stories
I thought I’d share a very short story I wrote a while back. It’s under 5,000 words long, but I enjoyed writing it immensely.
It started out as a piece written for submission to a short story competition, but in the end I decided not to enter. As with most of my writing about Music, I draw from my own experiences or those well documented to give them some authenticity.
Not that I am saying I am a Mafia member – Italian or Russian – I am not. But having worked in the Music Business I got to hear stuff, meet people, and read a lot of books about famous characters…you know the sort of thing.
This story is not based on any particular individuals or events
and is drawn from my imagination entirely.
Just saying….I don’t want any horse’s heads in my bed or concrete boots to wear.
Vegas or Moscow?
Marty Palermo looked around the conference table at some of the most powerful men in the Music business and waited for someone to have the guts to speak up. He knew where the bodies were buried, knew their deepest secrets, and knew how to damage them if push came to shove. It amused him to see them squirm, to see the anxious looks on their faces and to smell their fear. They reeked of it lately, more than usual.
‘Well?’ Marty looked at the President of Five Music, David Klein, raising his eyebrows, barely able to conceal the smirk playing around his mouth, he watched the small bald man’s dark eyes dart around the table, searching for a saviour.
‘What? Lost your voice? Nothing to say now that you know I know what’s coming, eh?’ It was that time of year again; here come the threats if they didn’t get more money, better treatment – whatever! Marty waited for the annual attempt at a power play. As much as it amused him to see them wriggle, he was getting tired watching them flexing what little muscle they thought they had left. They’d been beating around the bush for almost ten minutes now. Just cough it up; grow some balls.
David cleared his throat, his hand smoothing his shining pate. ‘I know you’re pissed off Marty, but you’ve gotta understand, we had no choice.’ He fidgeted in his seat, beads of sweat forming on his top lip.
‘No choice?’ Marty thumped the table, the bottled water jumped and so did the three men sitting around it. ‘There’s always a fucking choice.’ He bellowed at them. Secretly he always quite enjoyed the pretense, but he didn’t let it show. Let them sweat. Three fish on the end of his line.
‘Marty, please, you gotta keep calm, we can work this out.’ Ricky Rossini raised his hands; always the peacemaker, the Vice President hated seeing his long-term friend bullied by the cocky VP of Business and Legal. Marty was going to learn soon enough that the world didn’t revolve around him these days.
‘Yeah, we can work it out, let’s all keep the stress levels down. I’ve had a coronary don’t forget.’ Ernie Roth touched his chest defensively.
The VP of Finance was retiring at the end of the year and wanted to spend time on his ranch breeding horses and generally chilling after years of living in Los Angeles, keeping one step ahead of the movers and shakers ready to trample over him given the slightest opportunity. ‘I’d like to get some quality time before I snuff it.’
‘How the hell can we forget Ernie, you never stop reminding us.’ Marty snapped.
‘Look, Marty, you know how it is, we wanted to tell you, didn’t we guys?’ Ricky looked at the other two who nodded, relieved that he seemed to be taking the lead. ‘You gotta understand, we got leaned on. We had nowhere to go.’
Marty was confused. What the hell were they trying to say? ‘Spill it for Christ’s sake.’
‘You know we’re grateful for what your father, The Family and you’ve done for us Marty, we didn’t want this, we just didn’t know what to do and then, well, and then it got out of control.’ David found his voice again. ‘We didn’t dare tell you, they’d threatened us, our families. It was….’ He trailed off looking at the others for help.
This wasn’t about more money or power then – Marty’s patience was being tested now. Being leaned on? What the hell was going on?
‘Fuck the excuses, I said spill. Better talk to me now or I’ll be flying to Vegas and you know what that’ll mean.’ They knew what that meant. He always dangled the threat.
Five Music had been in business five decades and for most of that time they’d ruled the Charts, ruled Radio and ruled the Music business in LA. They’d sailed close to the wind. They were the hard men of music and only fools butted up against them and those fools were soon dealt with. Back in the seventies they’d pleaded the Fifth Amendment when the Payola scandal threatened to swallow each and every one of them. Serious jail time was on the cards and their saviour came in the form of an Italian Attorney, Chuck Palermo, Marty’s father, whose platinum coated contacts with a certain Italian ‘Family,’ located in Vegas, with an offer to ‘do them a favour,’ managed to get everything to ‘disappear.’ In return for a large share of their business he would look after them and their interests.
‘Welcome to the Family.’ Chuck told them.
‘We look after our own,’ he said and he did; the Family did, and from that day onward the company thrived, never again under attack from the authorities or from rivals. When Chuck died Marty filled his shoes just as he’d been groomed.
They’d been in bed with the Italians from Vegas for decades. Well, until now. Unfortunately the three men couldn’t see any way round Vegas finding out, but first they had to tell the attorney.
‘Remember doing the contracts for ‘Crimea,’ to write all the music for ‘Malibu,’ last year, and the crap their management tried on about wanting control of this and that, like they were some sort of mega noise or something?’ Ricky took over, sitting upright and trying to appear confident. This sucked big time; he felt like a stupid kid in front of his teacher.
‘Yeah, I stuck a flea in those Russians’ ears. They got the message.’ Marty recalled the pair of thugs trying it on, though what that had to do with whatever was going on with these three, he had no idea.
‘If the band hadn’t had such a huge following with massive download sales, I’d have kicked their butts back to Moscow,’ he said. ‘Fucking Russians are everywhere these days.’
He’d planned on getting rid of the managers soon after the band signed, but none of the band spoke English and in the end it hadn’t been worth the aggravation. They seemed to settle down after a while, stopped trying to play hard-ball at every opportunity. Everyone assumed they’d got the message, but now he was wondering. Not that crap again he hoped.
‘Malibu’ was the world’s most successful TV series, reaching two billion viewers in two hundred countries weekly and owned by Five Music’s Production Company, Fifty Percent.
‘They should be over the moon, getting their music on the show’s been a major earner for the band and their management thugs.’
‘But Marty, they didn’t get the message. Those guys sent some heavies round for a ‘friendly word’ with each of us a while back. They made threats; they really put the heat on. I’ve got kids, we’ve all got kids. It was terrible.’ Ricky shuddered. ‘They meant business, serious business, and we had to do it. We had no choice.’
‘What the fuck are you saying?’ Marty was losing patience, this wasn’t about the annual wobble.
He put his face up close to the sweating man, dragged him to he feet. The others gasped, shocked. ‘And we don’t mean business Ricky?’
Marty kicked his chair away and loomed over the table. ‘You guys forget who’s calling the shots, who keeps things nice for you guys, who runs this fucking business? You forget or are you just stupid?’
He walked round the table standing behind the others. ‘You forget who made all that money your wives’ love to spend all these years? You got short memories, or what, tell me?’
‘We, we know what you’ve done, The Family’s done for us, but what could we do?’ Ricky whined. His fleshy, face ashen. ‘They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, you know, like your Dad did.’
‘Who thinks they can put the heat on?’ Marty’s was purple with anger. ‘Who thinks they can mess with The Family?’
‘You gotta understand, they’re more powerful than you can imagine. For Christ’s sake, those guys are fucking ex-KGB!’ Ricky shrieked stabbing his podgy finger at the attorney.
For a few seconds whilst he swallowed the information, Marty said nothing. The men exchanged fearful looks.
‘Like who said?’ Marty thought about the two thugs managing the band. He’d heard stuff about the Russians in LA, buying up buildings, heavy-handed with tenants, and from what he’d been told, many of them were into gangs and small-time organised crime of some sort, but ex-KGB; he didn’t buy it. They were just trying to muscle in where they imagined they’d found a gap, but he didn’t rate them much. Small fry. He’d sort them before Vegas found out, no big deal.
‘You got your head stuck up your ass, you gotta see what’s going on in this town. It’s changing, the old alliances are dead Marty; the Families are losing their grip, you wise-guys are history. These Ruskies are mean sons of bitches.’ Ernie found his voice at last.
Marty couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The stupidity of them, thinking they could get their protection elsewhere and he wouldn’t – the Family wouldn’t – find out. And if they found out it wouldn’t be a problem? Yeah right. They thought he’d smooth it over. No way was that going to happen. After all these years they couldn’t split from Vegas. It wasn’t and never would be, an option.
‘After all I’ve done for you bastards over the years, you knife me in the back, you crawl to those red-necks first time they put the heat on.’ The Italian felt his blood pressure rising and took a deep breath. ‘Well I can put the heat on, know what I mean?’ He glared at them.
Ricky stood up almost nose to nose with the younger man. ‘You think we stand a chance against them? It’s your Dad and Vegas all over again for us. We had to make choices, we couldn’t tell you until now, but it’s sorted, finished.’ He poured a glass of water and guzzled it. ‘We were stuck between a rock and a hard place; Vegas or Moscow.’
‘I expect you to come to me, to tell me, you dicks. Not go dealing on the sly. How the fuck did you think you’d get away with it?’ Marty pushed his hands down on Ernie’s shoulders and the man shrank under the weight. ‘Did you think there wouldn’t be consequences?’
‘We got protection, like we did from you guys. Now, if we need to get protection against you, The Family or whoever, well, they’ll look after us. You wise-guys are history, what could we do?’ David moved round the table to join his conspirators, safety in numbers.
The young attorney’s blood ran cold as a thought occurred to him. He loomed over the three men he wanted to beat to a pulp. Stupid, stupid, fucking stupid, they couldn’t have, could they?
‘What the fuck did you give them? What do they think they’ve got?’
‘Fifty Percent.’ David spoke at last, his voice hoarse. Sweat poured down his face.
‘Fifty percent of the company?’ Marty was shocked.
‘Our Production company, all of it, not fifty percent of it.’ David whispered.
‘What?’ Marty could hardly believe his ears. He was going to have to fly to Vegas and face The Family after-all. This was deadly serious. These guys had sold them out, had done the dirty and he was stuck in the middle. He wasn’t going to be the fall-guy; he was going to have to do some creative thinking if he was going to survive.
‘And ninety percent of everything else. We get to keep some back catalogue too, but mainly artists not selling well or who’re about to go into the Public Domain.’ Ricky was sheepish for once.
‘We get to stay on the board, salary and stuff, but we’ll be just figure-heads because of our name and clout.’ David’s voice faltered.
‘Fucking nuts! You are so dead!’ Marty yelled, his hands tight fists itching to smack their heads in. In the old days his Dad would’ve given each of them a ruby necklace after emptying his Gluck into them. If he hadn’t, The Family would’ve sent someone to do him as well. Their fucking clout! As if.
‘Stay on the….what about me? What about Vegas? You think they’ll take this, you are out of your skulls; you are so dead, and your families are dead too, believe me. I’m fucking dead!’ Marty had to think.
‘What’s going to happen? What will they do, Vegas, I mean?’ Ernie was shaking so hard his teeth chattered.
‘I need to think before I tell them. What’s the deal with the Ruskies, when do they think they take over? Where are the papers you signed? Was there an attorney there? Get me copies, like yesterday!’
Laurence was pacing, trying to figure a way out. The stupid, stupid bastards. All the friggin’ hints and the run-around they’d been giving him lately. Why hadn’t he realised it was something else, not the usual. If only they’d told him as soon as they got leaned on, he could’ve got some guys in to sort it. Now he wasn’t sure if it was too late or not. Visions of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre flitted across his mind and he shuddered inwardly; no kidding, there’d be consequences.
After a hurried look around, the three older executives left the offices by the elevator to the underground car-park; their swagger gone, their shoulders sagging and fear exuding from every pore. They’d spent another hour with Laurence before leaving him. Suddenly they didn’t feel so sure things would work out the way their new ‘partners,’ had promised.
‘You go home, stay there, don’t do shit, you get me?’ Marty yelled. They got it all right.
They got into their expensive chauffeur driven cars and headed home to await their fate.
The attorney sat in his office, deep in thought. He’d got copies of the documents the men had signed over to the Russians and had read them through several times. He had to hand it to the Russians, they’d covered every eventuality and his colleagues had, as far as was possible, covered their asses too. Still, it wasn’t their asses he was worried about. He was going to be in some serious shit back in Vegas. He’d allowed himself to get too close, too friendly, too ‘into’ the Music business in Los Angeles, which he had to admit he loved. He’d not forgotten his masters back in Vegas, but most of the time things ran smoothly and he’d had little cause to get them involved in running the company.
These days most wise-guys knew to keep their distance from Five Music and so life was pretty good in general. But now, well, now he was going to have to use all his negotiating skills and his wits to try to stay alive and to somehow turn this situation to his advantage. But how?
There was a noise from the outer office and just as he was about to call out, the door flew open and six huge men in dark clothes stood glaring at him; two pointed guns at him, and he raised his hands. His first thought was robbery; someone had come for the office equipment and anything else they could find, but then the taller man spoke.
‘You are Marty Palermo, yes?’ He had a heavy accent.
Marty nodded slowly, ‘Yes, what is it? What do you want?’ His heart pounded in his ears.
‘We’ve come to make you an offer, Marty.’ The man walked round to Marty’s side of the desk and pointed the gun at his temple. The Italian shook from head to foot.
‘Vegas or Moscow?’ The man smiled and waited.
(c) Jane Risdon 2014
I hope you enjoyed my tale, do let me know what you think.