Smoke

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Authors: Elizabeth Ruth
four-foot-long boa constrictor wrapped around his shoulders and a couple of hungry German shepherd dogs at his side.”
    â€œCoolsville.”
    â€œIt was. Unless it was you caught in the crossfire. But as far as questionable opportunities presenting themselves you couldn’t find a better place. Blind pigs, gambling, rum-running, opium dens.” Doc John clears his throat and lowers his voice. “Ladies of the night.”
    â€œIs that how the Sugar House Gang made their money?”
    â€œNo, no,” the doctor wags his finger. “They used a regular business to front for the rum-running. It was all about the liquor. See, the Oakland Sugar House produced cane sugar, sold it for corn syrup. Every underworld racket specialized. The Jaworski Gang in Hamtramck were known for their high-profile bank robberies. The Legs Laman bunch made a name kidnapping other gangsters for ransom. The Westside Mob squeezed money from bookmaking operations, encouraging donations for what they called betting services.” The doctor sits back in his chair, plunks his feet up on the banister.
    â€œNow when Joe Bernstein was introduced to Charlie Leiter it was like hitting the jackpot, only Joe didn’t know it yet. The old man’s fastest and most vicious days were over and in Joe he saw the possibilities of youth again. He took the boy under wing. Taught him simple things like how to improve his pickpocketing technique. Next, Charlie’s lessons turned to the weapons and such. Joe learned how to cut the whiskey—pure chemistry—and how to cross on the river with the illegal cargo without getting caught. Joe learned how to get rich in a city dazzled by the almighty dollar, and he, in turn, passed all this education on to his brothers. With their old-timer connection, the Purple Gang was destined to become the most powerful in Detroit.”
    â€œWow!”
    â€œAnd you remember Ruthless Eddie?”
    â€œSure. The boxer.”
    â€œRight. He was soon as loyal to the Bernstein brothers as they were to Charlie Leiter. After the fight with Fingers Fontana, Eddie was out of work, you might say. Tainted. He had no money, few friends—no one wanted to risk an association. Some said the sweet science was ruined but I think folks exaggerate. Anyhow, Ruthless Eddie didn’t want to wind up like Fingers Fontana right? Face down in a gutter with a bullet to the back of the head. So he did what any smart man would do—cozied up to the enemy.”
    â€œI can’t believe it. Not after what Raymond did to him.”
    â€œWell he did. I know. It happened one rainy night at the bath-house on Oakland Avenue. A shvitz, the Purples called it. A local fellow who’d also gone to the Old Bishop School owned the place so the gang wasn’t likely to be ambushed by a rival there. The shvitz was a dark brick brownstone where you walked down a few steps and entered through a narrow basement door. The night of Ruthless Eddie’s conversion, let’s say, the boys dropped their clothes in a change room on a bench and each one grabbed a towel. They filed into the hottest of all the rooms, the Russian bath. The place was teeming stone walls and floor, hotter than Hades.
    â€œThere they were half-naked, defenceless, no hardware, and totally unawares when up sat two of the three other men in the room, cousins of the River Gang boss Pete Licavoli, pulling weapons out from under their towels. Had them fastened to their thighs with electrician’s tape, if you can imagine. One cousin leapt towards Joe with a hunting knife. Joe managed to spot him coming at the last instant, out of the corner of his eye. He made a fast roll down to the bench below, righted himself and grabbed the knife. After a brief struggle, he managed to stab Johnny Licavoli in the heart. His chest parted like the Red Sea. Blood everywhere. Heat. Steam. He was useless. But the second Licavoli cousin had gone after Raymond with a

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