E X C E R P T
One evening, it was toward the end of October, Harry Arno said to the woman he’d been seeing on and off the past few years, “I’ve made a decision. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before in my life.”
Joyce said, “You mean something you did when you were in the war?”
It stopped him. “How’d you know that?”
“When you were in Italy and you shot the deserter?”
Harry didn’t say anything, staring at her.
“You already told me about it.”
“Come on. VVhen?”
“We were having drinks at the Cardozo, outside, not long after we started seeing each other again. You said it the same way you did just now, like you’re going to tell me a secret. That’s why I knew. Only I don’t think you said anything about making a decision.”
Now he was confused.
“I wasn’t drinking then, was I?”
“You quit before that.” Joyce paused and said, “Wait a minute. You know what? That was the second time you told me about shooting the guy. At Pisa, right? You showed me the picture of you holding up the Leaning Tower.”
“It wasn’t at Pisa,” Harry said. “Not where I shot the guy.”
“No, but around there.”
“You’re sure I told you about it twice?”
“The first, time, it was when I was working at the club and we went out a few times. You were still drinking then.”
“That was what, six or seven years ago.”
“I hate to say it, Harry, but it’s more like ten. I know I was almost thirty when I quit dancing.”
Harry said, “Jesus Christ,” figuring that would be about right, if Joyce was around forty now. Getting up there. He remembered her white skin in the spotlight, dark hair and pure white skin the only topless dancer he ever knew who wore glasses while she performed; not contacts, real glasses with round black rims. For her age Joyce still looked pretty good. Time went by so fast. Harry had turned sixty-six two weeks ago. He was the same age as Paul Newman.
“You ever hear me tell anyone else?”
Joyce said, “I don’t think so.” And said right away, “If you want to tell it again, fine. It’s a wonderful story.”
He said, “No, that’s okay.”
They were in Harry’s apartment at the Della Robbia on Ocean Drive listening to Frank Sinatra, Frank and Nelson Riddle driving “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Harry speaking quietly, Joyce looking distracted. Harry all set to tell her about the time in Italy forty-seven years ago and then ask—this was the decision he’d finally made—if she would like to go there with him the end of January. Right after the Super Bowl.
But now he wasn’t sure he wanted to take her.
For as long as he’d known Joyce Patton—Joy, when she was dancing topless—he had always wondered if he shouldn’t be doing better.
Harry Arno was grossing six to seven thousand a week running a sports book out of three locations in South Miami Beach. He had to split fifty-fifty with a guy named Jimmy Capotorto—Jimmy Cap, Jumbo—who had a piece of whatever was illegal in Dade County, except cocaine, and he had to take expenses out of his end: the phones, rent, his sheet writers, various incidentals. But that was okay. Harry Arno was skimming a thousand a week off the top and had been doing it for as long as he had wiseguys as silent partners, going back twenty years. Before Jumbo Jimmy Cap there was a guy named Ed Grossi and before Grossi, going all the way back forty years, Harry had worked for S & G Syndicate bookies as a runner.
The idea originally was to get out of the business at sixty-five, a million-plus socked away in a Swiss bank through its branch in the Bahamas. Then changed his mind when the time came and kept working. So he’d quit at sixty-six. Right now the football season was in full swing and his customers would rather bet the pros than any other sport except basketball. Put down anywhere from a few hundred to a few grand—he had some heavy players—and watch the games on TV that Sunday. So now he’d wait until after the Super Bowl, January 26, to take off. Three months from now. What was the difference, retire at sixty-five or sixty-six, no one knew how old he was anyway. Or his real name, for that matter.
Harry Arno believed he was a hip guy; he kept up, didn’t feel anywhere near sixty-six, knew Vanilla Ice was a white guy; he still had his hair, parted it on the right side and had it touched up every other week where he got his hair cut, up on Arthur Godfrey Road. Joyce now and then would arch her back, look up at him, and say, “We’re almost the same height, aren’t we?” Or she’d say, “What are you, about five seven?” Harry would tell her he was the height of the average U.S. fighting man in World War Two, five nine. Maybe a little less than that now, but in fairly good shape after a near heart attack, a blocked artery they opened with angioplasty. He jogged up and down Lummus Park for most of an hour every morning the Della Robbia. and the rest of the renovated Art Deco hotels on one side of him, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, hardly anyone outside yet. Most of the old retired people were gone, the old Jewish ladies with their sun hats and nose shields, and the new inhabitants of South Beach, the trendies down from New York, the dress designers and models, the actors, the stylish gays, didn’t appear on the street before noon.