Tarnished Souls: Frankie and Gent: A story of guts and glamor in the Golden Age of Hollywood – not a romance.
When I started writing the second book in the Tarnished series, I created a character who was only intended to have a walk-on part, as a mocking antagonist. Frankie Monetti started out as a smalltime hood in Los Angeles.
Tarnished Soul was intended as the story of Detective Owen “Mac” McGregor and Grayson Adler and I had the whole thing planned out. Then, overnight, Frankie took on a life of his own. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a character speak louder or more emphatically than Frankie. “This is my story,” he said, over and over, until I relented and revised my entire plan.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the mob had a foothold in Los Angeles, their grasp tight on the city and on the movie industry. They controlled the unions, gambling, prostitution, and booze after Prohibition ended in 1933. It is against this backdrop that I set the story. Frankie turned from a smalltime hood in New York, to a crime boss in Los Angeles, sent by the Family to take over the fertile territory for the New York syndicate.
In reality, Mickey Cohen ran the city, aided by the infamous Bugsy Segal, the man some say “invented” Las Vegas. I’ve chosen not to include these iconic names in the story, but I instead created my own insular world. However, a story like this isn’t one I created out of whole cloth. I couldn’t build the world Frankie and Gent live in without knowing that period in history. Though Tarnished Souls: Frankie & Gent is a 25k novella, it still required a tremendous amount of research. The readers expect me to get the history right.
I struggled with depicting some of the more unpleasant realities of life in the mob. As a crime boss, Frankie Monetti gives orders that might end a person’s life. As a hit man, Gent Vitali, is inured to the vagaries of “the life.” In grooming Frankie from an early age, fictional New York crime boss, Salvatore Sebastiani expected Frankie to develop the leadership skills needed to advance within the Family structure. Frankie possesses all he needs—good looks, intelligence, ambition, and charm. He also has a ruthlessness that sets him above the rest of his Mafia brothers. He makes his bones early, which pleases Sal and makes Frankie Sal’s golden boy.
At the same time, Sebastiani uses Gent to do all his dirty work. Gent’s a soldier for the mob. He runs numbers, makes collections, busts heads. He’s all brawn and he likes it that way. But he’s not stupid either. He uses his intelligence to his advantage, and appears as just another goombah when it suits.
Five years before Tarnished Souls begins, Sal’s men discover Frankie and Gent together, and the world as they know it, ends. Sal separates them, Frankie to California, and Gent stays in New York, at Sal’s beck and call. The lessons they learn in the intervening years make them the jaded men we meet as the book opens.
I struggled with how to characterize Frankie and Gent. Whether or not to have them remain true to themselves as I saw them, or to “clean them up,” sanitize them and their behavior for the sake of the story and reader sensitivity. I chose the first option, and the result is a gritty story of mob life, over the course of a tense three days.
These guys say unflattering things that, if readers allow, could offend some modern day sensibilities. I hope readers will understand the life I portray and within that context, understand I am not trying to offend. Rather, I hope open up the world Frankie and Gent live in, so readers can see it is quite different that the one we live in today. They are different men than most of us are familiar with. They see things through a prism of skewed values and their own very narrow world.
Tarnished Souls: Frankie and Gent is a story of two men who live each day as though navigating a mine field. When a dinner out could mean your death. When there is always someone who wants what you have and is willing to murder you to get it.
Betrayal has consequences and Frankie and Gent handle each case true to form. People die in Tarnished Souls. There’s no remorse, no angst. They are gangsters. They do what gangsters do, and sleep well at night. That’s not saying they don’t live with guilt. They do. However, each thing they must do is just another day at the office.
I’m very careful to point out that Tarnished Souls is not a romance. In no way is it a story of the shortest way to get them into bed. Problems arise that the mobsters must eliminate in order to live another day. Sex is not something they worry about.
Yes, there is sex, but that doesn’t equate to romance. Think figurative guns-to-the-head kind of sex. Consensual, but cautious. There aren’t any schmoopy pillow whispers. There is, however, an underlying sense of caring, which is expressed in deed, not in words.
This is a different kind of story for me, but one that will fuel the next book in the Tarnished series, Tarnished Souls: Mac & Gray. Mac is Frankie’s nemesis in the first book. TSII picks up where number one ends. There will be a resolution to Frankie and Gent’s story, as Mac and Gray’s story dovetails inexorably into Frankie and Gent’s.
I am going to do TSII differently, as we wind up the case that Mac can’t forget, one that has stolen his career, his relationship, and his view of self. There will be multiple points of view as we explore the lives of four men, and how events conspire to bring about a day of reckoning that will change those lives beyond recognition.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey, starting with Tarnished Souls: Frankie and Gent. To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from Tarnished Souls: Frankie and Gent, available for Pre-Order now at Dreamspinner Press.
Monday, July 9, 1934
The early part of the evening turned out to be a real lulu. The wrap party for Cullen Reilly and company filled Suede to capacity. Reilly had just finished a picture for MGM and wanted to blow off some steam. Often did after a long shoot, or for any reason at all. Frankie Monetti’s best customer for the restaurant, bar, and not-so-secret activities on the top floor of the club. Reilly ordered up four muscular humps to keep him occupied while the party thrummed downstairs.
The district attorney’s bet with the mayor about who could win more at the craps table made for some swell action in the gambling room. Suede’s main floor filled with the curious, while both DA Fitts and the mayor peeled off C-notes as though they’d printed them in their basements. In the end, neither won as much as the house. A good night for Monetti’s lone legit venture.
At two fifteen, the party broke up, but not before Frankie did some serious ogling. From his usual booth, he watched the pretty boys sway and paw each other. He feasted eyes on the young bucks, who were only too happy to have their local mobster watch them fuck each other insensible.
Duke, his number one, drove him and a few of the boys home. Frankie always kept four close, just in case.
“You fellas get some sleep.” Duke, Fat Artie, Wild Eye, and Johnny went to their wing, while Frankie unlocked the door of his Holmby Hills mansion.
The night quiet, Frankie leaned against one of the fluted white columns under the portico and stared up at the fat moon, his senses dulled but not nearly enough, despite his being bent. As the clock in the foyer chimed three, he gave a fleeting thought to waking Tommy, his houseboy. “All good boys should be in bed.” He chuckled. “With me.”
Slivers of moonlight slipped into the breach as Frankie stepped over the threshold, into his foyer, then slid the bolt into place. For a few hours, no work, no orders to give.
The grandfather clock ticked overloud as moonlight glinted off the heavy pendulum. An orange glow caught his attention as he passed the middle arch that led to the living room. Through the open damask draperies, light from the streetlamp filtered in to reveal a shadowed figure, deep in the recesses of the room. Acrid cigarette smoke wafted through the still summer air.
His black onyx pinkie ring caught on his pocket as Frankie dug deep for the security of his body-warmed .38. “Who’s there?”
Another bright glow, then the sizzle of cigarette paper. “That any way to greet an old chum? I figured at least you’d remember me.”
The familiar gravelly voice lifted Frankie’s boozy haze like a movie curtain. Fear slithered down Frankie’s spine. Yeah, he remembered the Ansonia Hotel, the Turkish baths. “Gent? What are you doing here?”
“Hey, hey. Don’t need the hardware. I’m here to talk.”
“You shouldn’t be here. If Sal finds out, you know—”
“Sal sent me.”
The cock of the hammer echoed off the walls.
Frankie’s finger froze on the trigger. “Why?”
“He sent for ya. I’m here to make sure ya come in.”
The grit in Gent’s voice scraped over Frankie’s nerves. “Sent for me, huh? That doesn’t sound good.”
Frankie glanced into the empty foyer, his gun in hand.
Gent flipped on a lamp, then shifted in the corner sofa chair, his Fedora pulled down over his eyes. “T’ings don’t add up.”
“What things? He thinks I’m cheatin’ him?”
Frankie walked fully into the room, his grip still on his gun. “Like what?”
“I’m takin’ ya in. All I know is Sal wants ta talk. You have to explain.”
“Why’d he send you?”
“It’s what I do.”
“Everything’s copacetic here. Guaranteed.”
Gent shrugged. “He don’t believe it. Not bad enough, you fucked up the hit on McGregor. The one t’ing he asks you ta do, and you botch it. He ain’t happy, Frankie. Not happy at all.” Gent raised his head and tipped his Fedora’s brim back with the gun barrel. “I’m here ta clean up, then take you back. No more complicated ’an dat.”
The six-foot-four-inch Gent unfolded himself from the chair. His shadow loomed on the wall behind him—Sal’s hulking avenger.
When Gent stepped into the light, uncharacteristic fear ripped through Frankie and wrung him inside out. “Stay right there.”
“I ain’t killin’ you here and only on Sal’s word. We can keep our rods on each other, but I’m gonna do what Sal sent me to do.” Gent inclined his head, then stubbed out his snipe in the glass ashtray beside the chair.
“What’s he wanna know? Why now? Why you? I haven’t heard from you in five years. He said we ain’t s’posed to see each other. ’Member?”
Gent sighed, then tucked his gun into the chest holster. “All’s forgiven about that. Sal’s got a new bone to chew. Money and McGregor. He’s got ’em both stuck in his craw, and you gotta come get ’em out.”
“Fuck McGregor. As long as I steer clear, he’s got nothin’ to do with me.”
“Bullshit. He holds press conferences, accuses the Syndicate of shit they never thought of. Yak, yak, yak. He’s gonna clean up Los Angeles. Sooner or later, that flatfoot is gonna find somethin’ to hang on ya, and that makes Sal nervous.
After Gent sprinkled tobacco for a new cigarette, he licked the paper with a delicacy that belied his muscled bulk.
Being sent for was as harsh as it got. You go in alive and come out dead and always someone you know whacks you. No exceptions. “Why you?”
Gent scratched a thumbnail across the top of a stick match, then lit his newly rolled cigarette. “Sal respects me. I do what he says, keep my nose clean, ya know? Then he gives me more to do, trusts me.”
“You his man? He own you?”
Gent shrugged. “No one owns me. I’m just there.”
Frankie nodded. “Does he know your name?”
Gent turned his back. “I ain’t here to talk about me. I got work to do, then we take the train back to New York. That’s all there is.”
The ambivalence in Gent’s voice made him, like always, harder to figure. “So you’re here to kill McGregor?”
“Last thing before we leave. Gotta have a looksee at the books first. Get a feel for the operation.”
Frankie laughed. “What would you know about the books?”
Gent took two steps, then grabbed Frankie’s tie. “Five years is a long time. Even a dumb mook like me can learn shit in five years.”
Frankie calmly stared into Gent’s dead eyes. “I don’t doubt that, but last I heard, you’d racked up dozens of kills. When did he make you a book man?”
Gent pulled Frankie closer. “I know some shit. Learned to figure when Sal gave me the wire service to manage. Insteada breakin’ heads, I hung around and learned, top to bottom. Then I broke heads.” Gent released Frankie with a shove.
Frankie straightened his tie. “Big step. Your own operation.”
“Makes Sal a load and he likes that. I showed him he could trust me, so he figured I’d know what’s what out here.”
“Glad to hear it. I’ll have my man Nickels show you the books.”
“That or I take ’em. Either way.”
Fury rose up at Gent’s indifferent shrug.
“You changed, Frankie. You talk better, and look at your kippy digs. Just like fuckin’ Gable’s, for Chris sake. People notice ya. I see ya in the papers. Sal says drawin’ attention to yourself is bad for business.”
“Sal doesn’t understand how different living out here is. I can’t sound like a street hood from the Kitchen and chinwag with the bigwigs. To get things done, they have to respect me. I can’t talk all that goombah shit. Gotta live high, like they do. Meet ’em on their level.”
Gent shook his head. “Sal don’t like it. Thought you settled down. You don’t follow orders.”
“Fuck that! He doesn’t think killing a cop will draw attention? McGregor’s big news. Someone ices him and who knows what might happen.”
“Sal wants McGregor gone, and you lost your chance.”
“Why do I want to call attention to myself by offing the guy? That’s not good business sense.”
“There never was a cop Sally couldn’t buy.”
“Not that one. Sal doesn’t know what it’s like out here. You muscle in, but with finesse. I convinced the studios that turnin’ over thousands a month is their idea. Finesse.”
Gent stood loose and dandy while he smoked his cigarette. “Nah, I think maybe you wanna be in them movin’ pitchas.”
“You don’t know shit about my life. You’re still the same old Gent, listening to everyone’s bullshit. Maybe the organization needs some young blood at the top.”
“Sal’s had a guy out here, and he knows how you do things.”
Tired of the verbal hammering, Frankie flopped onto the sofa. “Yeah? Who is it?”
“Dunno. Word is, only Sal knows.” Gent sat down beside him. “The guy followed McGregor to Redondo Beach the same time you were s’posed to plug him. Seems McGregor spent that weekend there with a guy.”
“If he’s got someone tailing McGregor, why don’t he bump him off?”
Gent shrugged. “Not his job. Strictly hands off. Sal’s orders. He says you’re soft on the cop. That you ain’t changed any like that. McGregor was at Suede. You rump him, Frankie boy?” Gent brushed Frankie’s shoulder with an open palm. “Maybe the fuck didn’t go so well and you pissed him off? That why he’s after you?”
The silence stretched taut between them. The insult went sideways as Frankie assessed the mention of the club. “What does Sal know about Suede?”
Gent leaned forward. “Enough. Knows you have Hollywood drinkin’ your booze and movie stars and swank politicos fuckin’ each other in the fancy rooms. You have muckity-mucks in your pocket, but can’t get one cop to play ball. Sal wants his cut, is all. He don’t care if you deal cock or pussy, it’s alla same to him, but he figures you owe him for settin’ ya up so nice.”
Frankie slammed his fist on the coffee table. “He ain’t a part of that. I financed it myself. You tell him that, hear?”
Gent dragged deeply on his cigarette. “I’d like to hear you tell him that.” Gent wagged a brow. “After you killed Marino, Sal figured you’d lay low and build the organization, quiet-like. Wasn’t protection enough for ya? You made good scratch with that. Why’d you have to go and muck around with them that makes movies?”
“Sal knows too much. Is it someone in my crew?”
“Could be,” Gent said with a shrug. “But you’ll never know. Point is, Sal only trusts to a point, an’ you way over. When you set up shop someplace and don’t invite him along, he takes offense. Ain’t polite not to invite family.” Gent’s gaze never left Frankie’s. “You live or die because of him.”
Family. Frankie hadn’t thought of his in years. Hadn’t wanted to.
“With Suede set up like it is, Sal figures you haven’t reformed. He’s pullin’ you in.”
Frankie huffed. “And he sends you to do it, does he?”
“He thinks I’ve changed. Dat I don’t care about dat anymore. Difference between me and you? You never learned there’s a time and place for everythin’. By openin’ a setup like Suede, you rub it in his face. He got the message, and so will you.”
“What, you don’t like cock anymore?”
Gent licked his lips. “Never said that, but I learned to hide it. After what happened with you, I figured it all out. I stay alive ’cause I keep it to myself and a few parties who don’t dare talk.
It’s best. Never know who you can trust.”
“Come on. I know you. You can’t live without it. What good does it do to act like you can?”
Gent shook his head. “Keeps my fuckin’ head on my shoulders, that’s what. Look, Sal’s pissed and he wants to deal with you. Nothin’ to do wit’ me. I clean up, then I bring you in.”
Are you coming to GRL? I’d love to meet you or renew old acquaintances. See you there.
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