Robbing the cars is Jobbo’s idea. Frankie just goes along because it’s too hot to do anything else, and he can’t resist easy money. They walk along the East River, reaching into open windows and taking whatever they find. Mostly, it’s just junk, until Jobbo picks up the .45. It’s fully loaded, with the safety off, and Frankie is holding it when the cops come around the corner.
The police open fire, and Frankie shoots back. What else is he supposed to do? Before he knows it, both cops are down, and he and Jobbo are running to meet their connection: the Big Man. With the gun in his hand and two fallen cops at his back, Frankie has a shot at becoming a “big man” himself, unless the law catches up with him first.
A stunning portrait of urban crime, Big Man is vintage Ed McBain. A Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and the creator of the 87th Precinct series, McBain knew the dark side of New York better than anyone else, and in the city’s shadows, there’s no creature more terrifying than the Big Man.
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By Ed McBain
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1959 Ed McBain
All rights reserved.
It was Jobbo who first told me about the car snatches.
I never liked Jobbo, not even when we were snotnosed kids together, and I didn't like him that night either — but sometimes he made sense. Besides, it was one of those crazy summer nights where the heat hangs over you like a wet blanket, and even the buildings seem to be dripping a sooty kind of sweat.
I don't know if you ever been in New York to live. I don't mean to visit because then you get the tourist jive, and you figure the city is all Broadway lights and Fifth Avenue department stores. It ain't. And you can never feel the city like in the summertime when you can hear all the noises and when every guy and his brother is out in the streets trying to get a breath of air because it's so damn hot in the apartment you could choke. On nights like those, you don't even feel like breathing. You go downstairs and you lounge around outside the candy store and you watch the girls go by, like in the song. Anyway, that's what we were doing that night.
I remember the paper truck came by and dropped the newspapers on the sidewalk, and Jobbo walked over with the corded bundle and pulled a copy out, handing it to me. Then he carried the bundle inside to Mike who owned the candy store. It was just a little dumpy store and if you didn't know Mike was also a numbers collector, you would have wondered how come he could make a living in this ratty little joint. When Jobbo came out again, I was looking through the paper.
"What do you see, Frankie?" he asked.
"The usual jive," I said. "They're talkin' now about sendin' a rocket to the moon." I folded the paper. "You want this?"
"Too hot to read," Jobbo said.
Jobbo was a fat guy who sweated a lot. He never wiped the sweat away. I think that son of a bitch liked to sweat. He just let it roll down his face and his neck, and then his tee shirt sort of sopped it up so that there was always a big wet ring around his chest and armpits. He also stunk a lot. To tell you the truth, he was a pretty disgusting animal. But he was one of these guys who got insulted if you told him he should take a bath. His last name was Giamboglio, but nobody wanted to get tangled in a handle like that one, so everybody called him Jobbo.
"What do you do on a night like this, Frankie?" he asked me.
"You croak from the heat."
He nodded a little, sweating and smiling and stinking. Then he thought a while. When a fat guy thinks, you can almost hear the wheels going around inside his skull. Then he said, "How come you ain't with what'sher-name?"
"Who do you mean?" I said.
"Who says I got to be with her every night?"
"Well, what I mean, you been with her a lot lately."
"I took her out a couple of times, so what? Does that make us engaged?"
"I didn't say you was engaged," Jobbo said. "Listen, man, if you're gettin' some of that stuff, it's fine with —"
"You don't know what you're talking about," I said. "She's a good kid."
"Well, she is. So let's drop the subject. I ain't with her tonight because I don't feel like being with her. There's no damn strings on me, mister."
"No," Jobbo said, and I didn't like the way he said it.
"Look, Jobbo, leave me be," I told him. "I was standing here taking it easy and you come over with your crap, and nobody invited you. So just do me a favor, and shut up."
"Sure," Jobbo said. He was quiet for a long time, but I could hear those wheels going around in his head, clickety-click, clickety-click. "On a night like this," he said, "if a guy has nothing else to do —"
"On a night like this, I like to just not move, Jobbo. You move on a night like this, and you drown in your own sweat."
"Sure, sure. But on a night like this, a smart boy knows what to do. Now you're a smart boy, Frankie."
"I am, huh?"
"Damn right you are. Now what does a smart boy do on a night like this?"
"You tell me, Jobbo."
"Well, a smart boy don't stand around and sweat on a night like this. Not when he can be doing other things."
"You want to go over to the Jefferson pool? That it?"
Jobbo shook his head. "I'll tell you something, Frankie. On a night like this, a lot of people go driving in their cars."
"So it's hot, they roll the windows down. They park the car, and sometimes they forget to roll the windows up again. You follow me, Frankie?" His voice had dropped to a whisper. I had to lean close to hear him, and the stink was powerful close up.
"People leave things in cars, Frankie. Radios, purses, coats, lots of things. You follow me?"
"I'm not interested," I said.
"Okay," Jobbo said. "Forget I mentioned it."
We leaned against the stand and watched the chicks. In the summertime you really get an eyeful when they parade. They wear only these light silk dresses with hardly anything underneath, and when it's really hot the silk sticks to their bodies. I think I'd rather watch chicks walking in the summer than do just about anything else in the world.
"Suppose the cops show?" I asked Jobbo.
"Look, forget I mentioned it, will you? You're not interested, all right you're not. That's all she wrote."
"Don't go hip on me, Jobbo. I asked you a question."
"You can do lots of things if the cops show," Jobbo said, his voice dropping again.
"You can run."
"And get shot in the back?"
"You ever hear of anybody getting shot around here? Man, that's all rumors," Jobbo said.
"Pasco got shot," I said, "and that wasn't no rumor. If it was a rumor, it bled all the way down his leg."
"Oh, sure, the leg maybe," Jobbo said. He turned his attention to one of the chicks walking by. "Man, look at that," he said. He licked his lips and then said, "Getting shot in the leg ain't nothing, believe me. What's a little hole in the leg?"
"You got a hole in the head!" I said.
"Besides, you don't have to run from the Law. There are other ways. You can just pile right into the car, just like it's your own heap. You make like you're fiddling with the ignition or something until the Snow White cruises on. That's all."
"And the cops are gonna buy that, huh? The cops are gonna buy a sad story like that, huh? Jobbo, you got two holes in the head."
"Okay, then skip it," Jobbo said. "I asked you, and you said no, so let's skip it."
"You ever done this before?"
"Lots of times."
"Where do you ditch the stuff?"
"I got connections."
"Sure, you're a big man."
"I ain't a big man, not yet I ain't, but I got connections."
"What does a radio bring you?"
"Five, usually, if it ain't an old portable. You'd be surprised how many people leave portables in their cars."
"And a coat, how about that?"
"Depends on what kind of coat it is. You get more for the fur jobs."
"Who's gonna wear fur in this heat?"
"You be surprised, Frankie. When a dame's got a mink, she wears it even in Hell."
"It sounds risky," I said.
"For a jerk, yeah. But for a couple of down cats, it's duck soup."
"And we're just a couple of down cats, huh, Jobbo?"
Jobbo grinned, his big round face splitting over yellow teeth. "Frankie," he said, "in every crowd there's a smart boy." He paused. "In this crowd, there's two of them."
We hit the East River Drive first.
I still didn't know why I was going along with Jobbo, except it sounded like kicks, and there's nothing can be so draggy as a hot summer night. Besides, it was nice and cool by the river, and it didn't smell so bad tonight like it sometimes did. They dump the whole city into the East River and, boy, sometimes it gets unbearable. I used to swim in there when I was a kid, before I learned about how polluted the water was. Sometimes that Jefferson pool gets so crowded you could drown and your own mother standing next to you wouldn't know you went under. So I used to go down to the river instead. Until I learned it was polluted and you could get every disease including the African Crud from swimming in the damn thing.
But it was nice by the river at night. You could look over and see the Triborough, and downtown you could see the lights of the ferry going to Welfare Island, and if you looked hard you could see the U.N. all lit up like the streets are when it's La Madonna di Carmena. And out past the Triborough, you could get a glimpse maybe once in a while of North Brother Island where they got the hospital for teen-age junkies. It was kind of a sad idea, them kids out there sweating it out. I ain't a teenager. I'm twenty already, but I still got a feeling for kids like that who are all screwed up. It was Jobbo who suggested the Drive because he figured the lover-boys would park their cars there and then take the chicks onto the benches where they could watch the river. You couldn't park right on the Drive itself, naturally, but you could park in the side streets west of the Drive, and that's what Jobbo was counting on.
We worked it the way Jobbo suggested. We drifted along close to the river, walking past the benches and the rail. When we spotted a couple necking, we walked right past them a block or so, and then doubled back on the other side of the Drive. Then we checked the cars in the side street.
The first street we tried, we found three cars with the windows rolled down. The first two cars had nothing on the seats, and I was too chicken to sit around and try the glove compartments. The third car had a magazine and a flashlight on the back seat. Jobbo stuck his hand in through the window, unlocked the door, and then grabbed the flashlight, leaving the magazine where it was.
"Here," he said, handing me the flash. "I'm gonna try the glove compartment."
He rolled over onto the front seat and thumbed open the glove compartment and stuck his hands into it. I watched him for a second and then looked off down the street nervously. There wasn't a soul in sight, so I began to feel a little better.
"Anything in there?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said.
"I can't tell. Give me the flash."
"We'll check it later. Come on, grab it and let's go."
He came out of the car and closed the door behind him. We walked up to the Drive like a couple of old buddies out for a little stroll, and we stopped at the first empty bench we saw. Jobbo dug into his pocket and showed me what he'd swiped from the car.
"A compact," I said.
"Yeah, I wonder if those are real rubies."
"Rubies, my ass," I said. "You can pick up the same thing in the fiveand-ten."
"Well, the night is young," Jobbo said.
"I think I had enough."
"Just what I said. You think I'm gonna risk a hassle with the Law over this crap? What'll the flash bring you? A dime? And that compact? Your connection'll throw you out, you bring him this kind of crap."
"Hell, you only just started," Jobbo said. "Three cars in the first block we tried. Don't get chicken now."
"I ain't chicken. I just don't want to monkey with this petty horse manure, that's all."
"Come on, let's give it another try."
"Well, okay," I said, "but only one more block. We don't strike then, I'm going home."
"We'll strike," Jobbo said. "Come on."
We didn't look for nobody necking this time. We just walked up to the next block and started right away looking for open cars. We spotted one close to the corner, but it was too near the lamppost, so we let it pass. The sixth car up from the corner had the back window rolled down halfway.
"Here's another one," Jobbo said.
I put the swiped flash up to the window and threw the beam onto the back seat. "A coat," I said, really surprised to see it.
"There, what'd I tell you!" Jobbo said triumphantly. "Duck the light."
I doused the flash, and Jobbo stuck his hand in and opened the door. He threw me the coat and then climbed over the front seat, breathing hard, trying the glove compartment. The coat wasn't an expensive one, I could see. Just a light wool job, without even a silk lining. The owner probably used it to spread under the car when he got a flat.
"Son of a bitch!" Jobbo said from the front seat.
"What is it?"
"A gun," he said.
"A gun, a gun," Jobbo said excitedly. "Don't you know what the hell a gun is?"
"Put it back," I said quickly. "Come on, Jobbo, put it back. Let's cut out."
"Don't you know what a gun'll bring us?" he whispered.
"Put it back," I said. "Suppose somebody got cooled with the damn thing?"
I looked down the street again. The lampposts cast circles of light on the corners and in the middle of the block. Up near First Avenue, I could see the traffic whizzing by. I heard Jobbo sniffing, and I turned back to the car.
"What are you doing? Come on, let's —"
"I'm smelling the barrel," Jobbo said. "Hell, this gun ain't been fired in years. The guy probably keeps it in the glove compartment for protection."
"For Christ's sake, Jobbo, put it back, will you?" I was beginning to sweat a little. I didn't like the idea of the gun, and I didn't want to mess with it. That was as stupid as swimming in a polluted river. Besides, Jobbo was taking a hell of a lot of time in the heap. "You coming?" I whispered.
"I'm coming," he said. I saw him slide across the front seat to behind the wheel. Then he opened the door and stepped onto the sidewalk. "Let's go," he said.
We walked up toward the Drive again. I kept looking back over my shoulders.
"You know what this gun here'll bring us?" Jobbo said.
"You took the friggin' thing?" I shouted.
"Sure, I took it. Now quiet down," he said. "Man, we can get a sawbuck each out of this."
"Is it loaded?" I asked, wetting my lips. I saw Jobbo begin to fiddle with it, and I said, "Goddamnit, don't play with it! You want it to go off in your face?"
"How can I tell if it's loaded unless I open it up?"
"Well, not here. Not while we're walking. Jesus, why'd you have to take it, anyway? I don't like the idea of a gun."
"This is a good gun," Jobbo said seriously.
I didn't answer him. We kept walking up toward the Drive, and then we crossed the Drive and headed downtown. I could hear the noise of the tugs on the river and, under that, like a drummer using brushes on a snare, the sound of the river rushing against the wooden pilings. We kept walking until we found a dark bench, and then we sat down. I had the coat slung over one arm, and I was holding the flashlight in my left hand.
Jobbo took the gun in his hands and brought it to where I could get a good look at it.
"It's a .45," he said.
"How can you tell?"
"Don't you know a .45 when you see one?" He seemed pretty disgusted with me, but how the hell was I supposed to know what a .45 looked like? "Let's see if it's loaded," he said.
"You sure you know what you're doing?"
"Don't worry about me, man," Jobbo said. He poked around the gun a little, and then a piece in the handle slid out like a drawer. "Wow!" Jobbo said.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. It's got a full magazine, that's all."
"Throw it in the river, will you?" I said. "Do me a favor, Jobbo."
"Like hell I will!" He slammed the little drawer back into the butt of the gun, and then he hefted the gun on his palm. "Man," he said, "that is a weapon!"
"You see this little thing here? On the left-hand side of the piece? Right here, up near my thumb?"
"Yeah." I leaned over, interested now. This was the first time I'd seen a real gun up close.
"That's your safety," Jobbo said. "You snap that on, and you can't fire the piece."
"Is it on now?"
"Sure." Jobbo snapped the little lever. "There, now it's off. Now we can shoot the hell out of anybody."
I got nervous again. "Jobbo, throw it in the river."
"Don't be a nut, Frankie," he said. "My connection'll blow his wig when he sees this. This is like money in the bank." He paused, nodding. "Yessir, money in the bank. Let's take a look at the coat we got."
"I don't think it's any good," I said.
"Well, let's have a look at it."
I handed him the coat, and I watched while he turned it inside out, looking for a label. "Cheap coat," he said, "but it might bring a deuce, who knows?"
"A deuce? For that?"
"Sure. Clean it up a little, you be surprised how much my connection'll get for this." He found the label and tried to read it, but the bench was too dark. "Hand me that flash, will you?"
I started to give him the flashlight, but he had the coat in one hand and the .45 in the other.
"Here," he said. "You hold the gun."
Excerpted from Big Man by Ed McBain. Copyright © 1959 Ed McBain. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Frankie is moving up in the mob. He first gets involved when he starts stealing things from parked cars, gets shot and kills to police officers. Hesitant at first, Frankie begins liking his work, the pay, the material things. But as he moves up, he realizes that once in, there's no out.One of McBain's earliest works, Big Man is gritty, realistic, and engrossing. It is populated with low lifes, who you immediately begin to dislike. However, you can't stop reading about them...they way they treat each other and their wives/girlfriends. Big Man is a great example of a 1950s mystery novel. It's must reading for afficionados.