By Steven G. Farrell
The citizens of Las Vegas, Nevada were all afraid of Bugsy Siegel, the notorious gangster from New York. Afraid and respectful. “Ben”, the name he used in his inner circle, was a long-time partner of such Manhattan big shots as Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Costello. He even had connections as far down south as Hot Springs, Arkansas with Owen ‘the Killer’ Madden and his old Irish mob from Hell’s Kitchen. Oh, the people who dealt cards in the casinos, served drinks in the barrooms and waited tables in the restaurants liked him well enough because he was a generous tipper, but they had all heard about how his soft baby blue eyes could rapidly harden into a ruthless glare if he was displeased. Mr. Siegel always hung around inside his showroom at the Flamingo Casino, hobnobbing with the likes of George Raft, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Durante. However, even the King of Warner Brothers’ Studios Spencer Tracy treated him with kid gloves. The rumors flew that he let the big shots in free so they could help him get a screening in the movie industry. The stars and starlets were also a good pull for the hicks from Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana, who wanted to gawk at the showbiz people. The mayor, the chamber of commerce and every person with a stake in the city knew that the infamous Bugsy Siegel was rapidly taking over the growing strip in the new gambling mecca of the United States.How did you dare stand up to the hoodlum who had wacked Joe “the Boss,” the head honcho among the Italian crime world, in a Coney Island restaurant? The crazy lunatic had boldly walked into a Italian spaghetti joint on the Atlantic Ocean and had unloaded his weapon as the notorious mobster was slumped over his pasta. Bugsy Siegel was reputed to be a nut job who carried a tommy gun and a lust for mayhem inside of his very soul. He had grown up mean and wild in the rough and ready Lower East Side tenements that housed Irish, Italian and Jewish street gangs that terrorized the streets. Bugsy had become one of the most terrible of the terrible. He was even more insane than Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll, the Bronx child killer.
Bugsy Siegel, second-in-command in the Bug and Meyer Mob, had made a fortune as a bootlegger during Prohibition. His prosperity had continued during the Great Depression when he became one of the mob’s top enforcer along with Louis Buchalter and Albert Anastasia. However, when Kid Twist turned stool pigeon and Lipke went to the chair to fry, it meant the good old days were over. The Mafia wanted to adopt a business model that included handshakes and verbal agreements over bloodshed and murder. Bugsy was smart enough to see that his days in the Big Apple rackets were numbered, and it was time to seek greener pastures out west. He first tried his luck out in Hollywood, California, where he believed his matinee idol good looks would unlock doors for him into the motion picture industry. His arrival never quite met with the approval of the entrenched Mickey Cohen mob, so he decided to find his El Dorado in the desert.On his rambles on the frontier, he dragged along his trusted lieutenant Fat Irish Green and another bloke by the name of “Moe”. What an overweight Celtic was doing with the two suave Hebrews certainly raised eyebrows. He was an Irish holdover when his old neighborhood became Jewish in nature, thus he ran with the Jews. The three New York racketeers were up to no good as they cut deals, built up connections and made threats in the streets and alleys of the city as Las Vegas began its metamorphosis into a modern-day Babylon. The bright, flashing neon lights were soon chasing away the coyotes and old-time prospectors. The City of Sin was the dawning of a new age, where gambling and prostitution was legal. Americans had always thirsted for things that were against the law. Now the cut of the card and the lifting of a skirt would bring in tax monies to the state and federal governments. Bugsy Siegel, more than anybody, was the mover and shaker behind the concept of the new Las Vegas. It took plenty of money to open up the doors. Money makes more money in the long haul of life. However, borrowing money from racketeers is always a risky business.
Fat Irish Green, a low-level hoodlum from the Lower East Side, never appeared to be afraid of Bugsy Siegel. Fat Irish, a Jackie Gleason look alike, decked out in a loud green suit and an even louder green tie. The chubby thug adored his boss and the man he served as a bodyguard, driver and gofer. Bugsy, in turn, seemed to return the fat man’s affection. The two galloped all over the strip together, throwing dice, playing blackjack and squiring good lookers. Bennie had even setup Fat Irish with a nice room in the El Cortez Hotel, one of the best places in town. Word on the street was that Fat Irish Green had a free meal ticket for every eating establishment within walking distance of the El Cortez.
“House and feed Fat Irish Green,” was the order of the day.
The denizens of Las Vegas also heard the murmuring that Ben Siegel was out of favor with the big boys back east, who had financed his scheme to transform a sleepy cowboy town into a poker paradise. The Commission, the ‘Pentagon’ of crime, had expected a bigger return on their investment than what Bugsy had paid up on his past due statements. When the Mafia tried to lean on Ben, he told them where to get off as he slammed down the telephone receiver. The disrespect and defiance earned Mr. Siegel a hit contract with the chaps inside of Murderers Incorporated.
It was on the morning of March 1, 1947 when Bugsy Siegel rapped on the door of Fat Irish Green’s room. The gang leader brushed past his henchman, declaring, ‘you have to stash this suitcase for me, Fat Irish.”
“Sure, boss, sure.”
“If anything happens to me make sure nobody gets their dirty paws on it but Meyer Lansky.’
“I’ll give it to Meyer Lansky just like you told me, Bennie.”
“Any questions about it?’
“I never ask questions, boss.”
“I owe money…plenty of money… to the boys back east, and they’ll get it when I am good and ready to pay it.”
“The boys should know you’re good for the doe, Ben. Nobody knows that better than me.”
“I don’t like nobody pushing me around…and that means nobody.”
Bugsy watched as Fat Irish stashed the suitcase into the snug corner of an overstuffed closet. The two then went out on their appointed rounds of the day. Bugsy wanted to meet a new lounge singer that was reputedly in possession of a silky voice as well as a pair of shapely legs. It was good to introduce yourself to all the new acts because you never knew who was going to be the next big thing. Lewis and Martin were already booked for a long run before they were schedule to start filming their first feature-length motion picture in Hollywood. Although Frank Sinatra was becoming a has-been since the war ended, he still warranted a few dates. Anything to keep Frankie’s career alive. All of the upcoming singers and comics wanted a crack at the crowds inside of the Flamingo.
“You noticed Moe hasn’t been around lately.”
“Maybe he’s busy, boss. You know how it is around here. There’s always something that needs fixing or replacing.”
“I think the rat is busy avoiding me, his old pal.”
“No kidding, Bennie?”
“The stink word is out about me. The pollution is spreading quicker than the Bubonic Plague in this place,” said Bugsy, adding, “Get me?”
The two went their separate ways as the winter day started to wane. Fat Irish Green went out for supper before turning in early. He did feel vaguely depressed by Bugsy’s glumness. Maybe a good night sleep was all he required to make him feel better.
Fat Irish, never one given to deep thinking, gave no more thought to the suitcase until the next day when he heard the news on the radio that one Mr. Benjamin Siegel had been murdered during the night inside of his luxurious mansion in what appeared to be a gangland hit. The black and white photographs were downright gruesome. The boss had no eyes left! Fat Irish felt floored by the news. However, he knew he had to leave his room and make his presence felt on the strip. He wanted to show Las Vegas that he was still loyal and true to the fallen crime boss.
Las Vegas was soon flooded with news hounds and Johnnie law dogs of every kind: all seeking the identity of the shooter who had lurked in the bushes just outside of Bugsy home as he waited for a good, clean shot. The smart money was on some unknown upstart flown in from Chicago, Los Angeles or Philadelphia for the mission. It was some punk who was willing to face up to Bugsy to win a reputation as a hard man. Fat Irish Green suspected New York mobsters. He kept his opinion to himself when some cops hauled him downtown for questioning.
“I don’t know a thing, boys,” he said as he sat beneath the hot lamp. “Nobody tells me anything big like this.”
“You might be next, Fat Irish.”
“I don’t have information on anybody,” retorted Fat Irish, starting to sweat profusely.
“A whale like you makes for a mighty big target.”
“I learned how to duck back during the Roaring Twenties.”
“See that you don’t duck out of Vegas because we aren’t finished with the likes of you.”
“Where would I go?”
Fat Irish Green knew that the orders for his boss’s murder came directly from the big boys in New York. His suspicions did him no good two nights later when he encountered three Irish tough-talking mugs from the West Side of New York, who seemed too cocky for their own good as they played the roulette wheel. Their swagger implied that they were in good with the Irish mob. Fat Irish wondered if these three clowns could be employees of a big shot paddy back in New York City. Eddie McGrath ran the west side and he worked hand in hand with the five crime families of the city in order to hold on to his fiefdom. Since the massive gangland meeting at a hotel in New Jersey, the gangs were all theoretically working together.
“Bugsy Siegel is another dead Jew as far as we’re concerned,” crowed the ugliest of the trio.
Fat Irish Green stiffened and his face turned red.
“That Jew was my best friend,” he intoned.
“Say, why would an Irishman like you stick-up for a Yid?”
“With a name like Green you’re probably a Jew and not a Gaelic Irishman like me,” tossed in another one.
“I’m as Irish as the shamrock, kid, and don’t you forget it,” warned Fat Irish Green, clenching his fists.
“Says you, fatso!” The dealers were becoming jittery and the tourists began to melt away.
“He was a better man than all three of your Irish mick louses put together!’ roared Fat Irish Green, smashing a jaw with his right fist.
One heck of a donnybrook ensued with Fat Irish finally succumbing to a ferocious beating that confined him to his bedroom for the next few weeks. He felt somewhat better when Meyer Lansky showed up to pay his respect and to promise him that the three Irish punks would never trouble him again. The New York kingpin hinted about how there was plenty of space for burial grounds very close to the city.
“Mr. Siegel left something for you, Mr. Lansky,” said Fat Irish through swollen lips. “It’s in the closet on the far right, buried beneath some dirty linen”
“Do you know what’s in it?” asked Meyer, hauling the suitcase out.
“I don’t waste my time by asking questions.”
Meyer Lansky snapped open the suitcase and let out a whistle.
“Loot,” proclaimed Myer, using his mathematical genius, he quickly calculated that there was almost a half a million bucks at his fingertips. Charlie Luciano and the boys back home had acted too quickly.
“A lot of loot, I imagine.”
“Why didn’t he cough it up when he was asked to?” asked Meyer, shaking his head. “It would have saved his life.”
“You know how Bennie was, Mr. Lansky. He wasn’t one to be bossed around by anybody, including the big boys back east.”
“Fat Irish, you’ll never have to pay another dime or dollar in this burg again. You shall always have a roof over your head and plenty of food in that immense gullet of yours. I shall personally see to the arrangements, pal. It comes with a cost: tight lips.”
“You know me, pal. Nobody gets anything out of Fat Irish Green. I am Mr. Tight lips!”
However, Fat Irish Green was cheeky enough to get plenty out of his hosts in the growing Las Vegas strip. If anybody dared to tally up his tab, they only found them handed back to them with the quip,’ better check these figures out with Meyer and the boys back in New York City.” Any comment to anybody connected with Meyer, Lucky or Frank was met with “tough.” Fat Irish Green was a mob-supported freeloader. The El Cortez Hotel passed hands from ownership to ownership over the years. There was always the tacit understanding that Fat Irish Green was part of the fixtures. There were grumblings but Fat Irish Green became rather a landmark in his own right with time. Bell Boys delighted in pointing him out to guests newly checked in. Bartenders smiled as they poured him a beer. He was a reminder of the outlaw years of the city. Chefs were delighted to cook his favorite dishes, including corn beef and cabbage. His green suits and ties never became seedy or worn, so some of clothing stores must have been in on his upkeep.
Fat Irish Green seemed more than a little goofy in the aftermath of his beating. He was still as jovial as he had been in the past, but he had become quieter. His way of the dealing with the world was by greeting everybody with a huge Galway Bay grin and a meaty handshake. The housekeepers always giggled over his harmless roguish ways. The blackjack dealers were all very protective of the fat but adorable leech. They allowed him to win just enough for him to have pocket money. He was a smash hit with the farmers from the Midwest who desired to have to their photograph snapped with him.
“Mr. Green, level with us, were you were really pals with Bugsy Siegel?” some history teacher from Kenosha asked him one boozy St. Patrick’s Day.
“I was Ben Siegel last pal, mister.”
“Let me buy you a beer for that.”
It was the last draught beer ever poured for Fat Irish Green, for he died in his sleep that very night. Fat Irish was absent without leave at the breakfast buffet. The morning clerk found the one-time bodyguard on the floor in his crumbled green suit and loud green tie. His funeral at a downtown Roman Catholic Church drew a huge crowd of the city’s old-timers. The history teacher from Kenosha sat in the back as he scribbled away inside of his notebook.
“I can’t let Las Vegas forget about Fat Irish Green,” the teacher announced to others after the High Mass was been celebrated
The history teacher from Kenosha need not to have to worry about Fat Irish Green, the Jackie Gleason look-alike, because his ghost took care of that by making sure that he stuck to strolling through his domain every evening even after his death. Sure, the fat man and the last pal of Bugsy Siegel still haunts the corridors of the El Cortez with his hulking self. It is just too bad if people object to his spirit. As Meyer Lansky would say, “Tough.”
(Bio: Steven G. Farrell is a Professor in the Speech & Theater Department at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina. His nonfiction has appeared in Crime, Boxing News, The Sport Digest and Scary Monsters. His fiction has appeared in Frontier Tales, Candlelight Stories and AHF Magazine. Farrell has also produced a short film in Ireland about the Beatles. Mersey Boys: A Letter From Al Moran has appeared at six international film festivals.)