Kristi Jaylise Parker Presents…
Bosses &MadMen II:
Episodes I & II
By Kristi Jaylise Parker
Hello, my name is Mason Grandolph Wilkes. My father was Grandolph Hayes Wilkes the third, the man who would be the successor to my great Uncle Darwin, to head the Alexander family. I remember coming home from school the day my father got the news; he sat in his favorite armchair in the corner with a look of sadness on his face. I walked over to him and waited to see if he would notice me before I called him. “Daddy?” He turned his head towards me and stared at me for a moment.
“Yes?” he said. “Is mamma here?” I asked. “No, she went to the store. You got school work?” “Yes, sir.” “Go into the kitchen and get started on it then.” I did so. As I worked on my lessons, I could feel my father staring at me and I didn’t dare look up at him, I wondered though, what was going on in his mind. I now suppose he was thinking about how his plans to not go back into The Life had to be abandoned thanks to that one phone call, and I can now imagine he felt honored to be called upon by my Uncle and angered by it at the same time.
Or maybe he was thinking about his children and what this would mean for us. Uncle Darwin was a man that when he told you to do something you did it and my mother didn’t like that too well because she knew why my father felt so obligated to him. What she didn’t like was how demanding of my father Uncle Darwin could be. She told me after my father died that she’d wonder why couldn’t Mister Alexander (what she always called my Uncle) couldn’t find a nephew in his own family to call on.
Well, for starters, Seth was the only blood nephew of Uncle Darwin and since in our line of work women may not head a family, then my Uncles only choices were my father or Seth for Uncle Darwin only had daughters, my twin cousins Darwina and Darrisa, and too, only Uncle Darwin and Uncle Nicky had families out of the six Alexander children. This meant he had to choose his next male kin, which was Seth, but he passed him over.
When my father was twelve years old, my Uncle Darwin had to stop my grandfather from beating on my grandmother. During one of my Uncles meetings one of his men who had arrived late whispered in my Uncles ear he needed to go to a house a block away. Uncle Darwin told me later, “I didn’t need the man to tell me what happened that night because I knew your granddaddy.”
My daddy at age twelve had seen his father slam his mother into a wall and got scared and ran out the house, he didn’t realize that a man he ran up to was a Capo of my Uncle. After my father told the man what happened the father to the house he and Uncle Darwin was doing business in, he took him in through the back door as so he couldn’t see anything. The man took the boy upstairs to a small but lavish bedroom; he turned on a lamp as my father sat on the end of the bed then he told my father to stay put and that he would be back after a while.
The man was Cyril Thomas, a very trusted Capo of my great Uncle. Cyril Thomas was a happygo-lucky man, who never spoke one bad word about anybody and was one Uncle Darwin trusted with his own life. My father would tell me how after he went to bed, he woke up during the night to find my grandmother lying next to him and holding him in her arms with tears streaming down her face. When my father and grandmother went back home the next morning, they walked into the living room being a complete mess; the end tables and lamps were broken up from Uncle Darwin using them to beat the hell out of granddaddy and there was a huge hole in the wall from where Uncle Darwin had smashed my grandfather’s head through it.
Lying on the floor bloodied and bruised was granddaddy; my grandma thought he was dead until he got to coughing and trying to roll over on his side. Uncle Darwin came down from upstairs carrying a bag with some of my granddaddy’s clothes in it. He told my grandma “I’m sorry about y’all house, just get some new furniture and tell them to send me the bill. And don’t worry, he’ll be all right.” He says this while carrying the bag to the front door and motioning for two men.
My father remembers, “The guys were big, I mean huge. They picked my daddy up and carried him to a car and laid him in the backseat. At first I thought they would take him somewhere and kill him, I just knew I wasn’t going to see my daddy again” Uncle Darwin he told me would learn the hard way not to put his hands on a woman when during an argument, he slapped Aunt Cyrene and she told two of her older brothers.
They waited on my Uncle one night to come out of a bar and as he walked through an alley to get to his car they jumped him, beating him with bats and chains and kicked and stomped on him. He was almost beaten unconscious, then the brothers left him laying a few feet from his car, of course, this explains how he was able to beat the hell out of my granddaddy, for self-experience is the best teacher.
Uncle Darwin no longer liked the idea of having another woman, and it wasn’t out of some fear of my Aunt though, it was because Cyrene Burke proved to be all Darwin Alexander needed. Once we got to the club, my daddy, and I went in through the front, that was my pops idea because he knew the man didn’t know us. We walked in and were greeted by this young girl, she had to be no more than seventeen, all dressed up and talking with a fake posh accent. The chick was trying to hide her southern roots with that fake city girl talk.
As we stood there for a minute, I looked around to see any sign of our man, nothing of course. The hostess had gone to find us a table, although I tried to tell her we weren’t staying that long, she had quickly walked away to take the order of a regular and their guests. While the band was playing Lionel Hampton’s Flying Home, the young girl finally returned to seat us at a table near the band, I then saw Uncle Darwin who was sitting at a table on the other side of the room talking to a man.
At some point, my father could tell the man had informed my Uncle of something. Soon the man got up to leave. My Uncle sits for a minute before calling over a waiter who then comes over to us and tells my father Uncle Darwin wants us to go out back. Believe it or not, I didn’t get it. Why we got to go outback? I thought. It took my father to explain to me later that we had to go out to the back because we were in the enemy’s house, and you don’t have certain conversations in the enemy’s house.
Too many ears listening was his point and no telling who was running what back to the head man. So our conversation took place outside behind an adjacent building, from what we could tell, it was damn near vacant. My father says, “It’s bad enough this guy won’t pay you, and he got us out here”. Uncle Darwin, looking pissed off says, “I‘m not too happy about this either, he’s had me waiting for a week for my money.”
Uncle Darwin looks over at me, “What you think we should do, young man, should we give this guy any more time?” It shocked me he asked me anything, so I was careful with my words. I said, “He’s not trying to pay you if he ain’t paid by now. I mean, it shouldn’t take him seven days to pay you.” Pleased with my answer my Uncle says, “You’re right. You’re a smart young man.“Uncle Darwin then says to my father while smiling, “You know Grandolph, he’s going to be a great man, one of honor and respect.”
My father, smiling as well, says “Yes, I know.” Placing a hand on my shoulder my father says, “Listen, son, I want you to go back in there and find this guy, and when you do. Use this.” Uncle Darwin hands me his gun, I realized I was to kill this man who owed him money and I couldn’t say no. I was sixteen years old and had graduated from just punching folks in the face to putting bullets in them, and with this man my Uncle had got to where he didn’t want his money anymore, he wanted the man dead.
Figuring I had been present during times where both my Uncle and father had shot to death supposed men of honor; they both assumed I knew how to do it. One of a few lessons I learned that night was always pay your debtor’s because you never know if they’ll want to put a bullet in you. I walked back into the club through the back door, I looked around to make sure no one saw me and went to find my target. It didn’t take me long; I found him in a room down a long hall, playing cards and drinking with a friend of his.
His back was to the door, what a mistake for him and his drinking partner, for the guy was so drunk he didn’t see me much less the hand he was playing. My target kept telling his friend he was playing the wrong card, “We playin’ spades, man, why you throwin’ out these fucked up cards?” “Just play a card, man, play a card.” I almost couldn’t make out what he said, the guy was that screwed up. Yet it wouldn’t matter in another minute what he had to say after my first bullet slammed into his forehead.
Before the target could turn around, another slug hit him in the back of the head. Both men lay slumped over the table with blood running from the bullet holes, I stood there at first unable to believe I did it. I walked out of the club and told my father and Uncle the men were dead. Uncle Darwin just looked at me, trying to read me to see if I was okay, my father seemed proud of what I had done and told me later that I may be called on to do that again. He was right, I was ordered to take men out many times afterward, but my biggest takedown was yet to come.
We finally moved to Chicago in the summer of 1938, my mother made my father wait until I was out of school for summer break figuring that gave us enough time to pack and get things situated afterward. I remember the day we moved in and Uncle Darwin would show up later with Mister Marty Blythe to help move the furniture, while Aunt Cyrene showed up with Aunt Fayette, her younger sister, who would have her latest man in tow.
My Aunt Fay couldn’t keep her eyes off of Uncle Darwin while her new man couldn’t believe not only how hard she would stare but how she also followed her brother-in-law around like a puppy dog as he moved furniture in each room.
Aunt Cyrene would laugh at her sister’s attempt to flirt with her husband because she knew he wasn’t going anywhere. I thought it was funny too, because Aunt Fay would always want, but could never have, her brother-in-law, as her own. I remember while we were moving into our new house Uncle Darwin and Uncle Louis, Aunt Cyrene’s step-brother, how they took a break and sat on the front porch drinking beers.
These two men got to joking with each other by calling one another names and Uncle Darwin tells Uncle Louis he looks like a baboon’s ass. Uncle Louie couldn’t believe that someone would talk to him like that, but Uncle Darwin was bold and his humor was at times crude. Uncle Darwin’s crude humor would be also why he and Al Capone hit it off so well when my Uncle paid a visit to Chicago in 1930, to check on things, and he and Mister Capone would sit in the family restaurant Dixie’s until the wee hours of the morning when my Uncle was to go home, and throw friendly insults at each other that would make even a man like my Uncle Louie cry.
The two men would get along very well after that, working together to eliminate guys in our profession. His association with Big Al wasn’t planned, he like all men in our line of work, knew who Capone was and what power he had, but what Uncle Darwin didn’t know was how Capone knew about him and how the man saw my Uncle as a stand-up guy based on reputation alone. It became a case of with Capone as an associate Uncle Darwin could move in various circles and do various things that alone wouldn’t happen regardless of his reputation.
Yet Big Al wasn’t going to be in this with my Uncle and not get anything in return. The exchange would at times be having some of my Uncles’ men as hit men, or running a load of liquor to some place, or letting Mister Capone use Dixie’s as a meeting spot or even his own separate place as such. This would lead to the families sharing profits from certain ventures as a way of saying thank you to each other.
It was at age seventeen that my father would go to live with my Uncle and my Aunt because he had seen his father hit his mother, and his mother figured his father wasn’t showing their son how to be a man by drinking and being a sloth. She asked her sister would it be alright for Uncle Darwin to show him how to be a man. The thing about that was my Aunt didn’t think her husband would want to show the boy anything for my Uncle wasn’t big on setting examples. At six o’clock in the morning on a Sunday my Uncle found my father asleep on the front porch, he didn’t knock on the door or ring the bell because he figured his Uncle would get upset for disturbing them.
“I was knocked out sleep,” my father remembers, “I think he had called me a thousand times before I woke up.” “How did he know you were on the porch?” “He didn’t. He came outside and looked over to find me sleep, he woke me up and told me to get in the house. I don’t think Aunt Cyrene had told him I was coming, but, I was to spend the whole summer with them hoping to be taught how to be a man.” As Grandolph’s son, I can say now that, I don’t think my Uncle taught my father how to be a man so much as how to be a man in The Life.
Whatever he learned about manhood he was taught by being a man of honor, and truthfully, that how Uncle Darwin learned it. His father was killed by Klansmen when he was eleven years old, and his mother couldn’t take care of him and his brothers and sisters so they were split up to go and live with various relatives. Uncle Darwin was sent to live with his Aunt Mabel, whose male friend wasn’t all that friendly with him.
When her nephew arrived at her house she welcomed him with open arms, since he not only came with bags but also a monthly stipend from his father’s insurance policy but, when that ran out, her beloved nephew had to get out. The money would run out over a year later because the amount was broken down and split monthly among six children. Uncle Darwin was thirteen years old when Aunt Mabel came into his room at the stroke of midnight, told him to pack his bags and get his no-good behind out her house.
“I didn’t put up a fight, I just got up packed up and left. I don’t remember how Nicky and I found each other, but I remember him telling me he left the house of one of our older cousins because one of their friends tried to touch him so, he ran away.” About time this happened Uncle Nicky was fifteen and was working for a local gangster in Charleston, South Carolina.
He made his way back to their hometown in hopes to find one of his siblings or maybe even their mother. It was while hanging out in front of a local club and hearing this loud mouth kid that he realized he had found his brother. He came up to the young man from behind and told him to shut up, he would’ve gotten hit if his brother didn’t realize quickly who he was.
Uncle Nicky would take his baby brother and introduce him to the man he worked for, who turned out to be a Soldier for a local mafia family. Both the Alexander boys learned how to fight in the streets so they were good at their jobs, however, Uncle Nicky proved his loyalty to where he had gained permission to bring in other guys, so to bring in his own brother seemed right. Uncle Darwin would learn how to handle a gun around this time, with his brother taking him way out in the woods to teach him how to shoot.
“He had made a target for me by placing old soup cans on top of an old wooden fence, had em lined up going straight across. Next, he had me stand between five and eight feet away from the fence and handed me a gun. He tells me there are six bullets in the gun, one for each can and that I gotta shoot each one off the fence, I got em all but one.”
Teaching my father how to be a man though was a little tougher for my Uncle, but he would never admit it because even though he wasn’t big on setting examples, he liked that my father admired him so much. According to my father, his Uncle Darwin was first a man he would hear about, he was the Uncle that would send birthday presents and cakes by Aunt Cyrene on Grandolph’s birthday, that started when my father was nine because his father was a drunk and would waste the money he made.
Aunt Cyrene’s sister called her and begged her to ask her husband to help get Grandie (Aunt Cyrene’s nickname for my father) a small cake and some presents. My father told me, “I had no idea who my Uncle was, I didn’t meet Uncle Darwin until I was twelve, and he was always there after that.” Somewhere in there, Seth became jealous of my father, he didn’t understand why his blood Uncle was always there for his wife’s nephew but not him.
Aunt Cyrene treated them both equally and Seth always was respectful towards his Auntie, and she him, even if the boy at times did seem strange. She was the Aunt that would stop the other children from making fun of him when he did something that seemed odd, explaining all the time that everyone is different because God made them so, she was also the Aunt that didn’t get into family disputes yet she let it be known she stood by her husband. She would also be the in law that got utmost respect which Aunt Madeline craved so badly.
When Uncle Nicky married this young girl she was frowned upon immediately, I would come to understand that her trying too hard to be an Alexander and not just be an in law didn’t sit too well with great-great-grandma Alexander. Yet Madeline felt her new mother-in-law was too much in her and Uncle Nicky’s business and treated her older son with contempt, while Darwin and his wife she simply adored. As far as great-great-grandma Alexander was concerned, Cyrene was respectful towards her and knew how to conduct herself as a woman, as to where Madeline was just low.
Yet, if Aunt Madeline was low then Uncle Darwin was a manipulator because he used her wanting to be accepted by the family so she would sleep with him; however, she wouldn’t find out she was pregnant with Seth until months later. This happened before Uncle Darwin married Aunt Cyrene and before Aunt Madeline married Uncle Nicky. Neither Uncle Darwin nor Aunt Madeline spoke of how they slept with each other, and when Seth was born, his mother told the family Nicholas now has a son, and always spoke of how he looked just like his father.
Right before Seth’s birth, his father would be sent to jail on a drug charge, serving just two years, Seth would be two years old when his father got out. His father was quite proud to have a son, he would show Seth off to his friends as the boy got older boasting about how his son inherited his good looks and charm whenever a woman approached the boy.
Seth’s father wouldn’t notice the changes is his son’s features until he was six, and whenever he brought that up, Aunt Madeline would always say, “He looks like you and me, his mamma and daddy. Besides, who else he going to look like?” Either my Uncle didn’t care or didn’t notice how he got that same answer (or one like it) every time he’d bring that up, I do think he thought his son looked like his brother, but his being in love with Aunt Madeline would put such notions out of his head.
As far as his wife was concerned, it was a denial that helped her face the fact that she had been fooled into sleeping with the man who would become her brother-in-law. She denied it so well that family gatherings were especially amusing: Slightly nervous, she would see Uncle Darwin and tried to avoid him, seeing that, he would go over to her and ask to hold his nephew, she would avoid eye contact my Uncle, not knowing what to say to him so Uncle Darwin would ask how the boy was doing and tell her that if they needed anything, don’t hesitate to call him.
“You know, he looks so much like Nicholas, doesn’t he?” Aunt Madeline says. Uncle Darwin replied, “Of course he does, and I’d say, a little bit like his dear old Uncle too.” Uncle Darwin would say this to Aunt Madeline while giving his charming smile. She’d look at him angrily as she took Seth. I think it gave my Uncle pleasure to taunt her, most men would be trying to keep such things quiet but, my Uncle knew how to keep Aunt Madeline quiet, yet, it wasn’t as if she would’ve had anything to lose if anyone found out.
As to where with Uncle Darwin, his reputation was on the line if anything for one thing in The Life is you don’t mess around with another man’s woman, married or not. Yet he knew how badly she wanted to be accepted by the family and if this got out then, everything great-great-grandma Alexander thought about her would be right and Aunt Madeline certainly didn’t want that.
Uncle Nicky and Aunt Madeline were always arguing about money, and about how my Aunt always asked her sister-in-law to asked Uncle Darwin to help out with Seth, Aunt Cyrene never questioned why Madeline was asking such all the time, but I believed she perceived why it was done. Uncle Darwin said nothing, he would send whatever amount, after a while, his brother grew tired of it and questioned his wife.
He never questioned his brother, and when Aunt Madeline found out she was pregnant she believed that her child was by her husband so, she told the family Seth Osiris Beckett was Nicholas Alexander’s baby. My father grew up without a father and with a mother who took abuse from any man she was with, too. Aunt Arlene was Aunt Cyrene’s older sister, she was one of three Burke girls, and she was the one who didn’t find her brother-in-law all that attractive. Although it was Uncle Darwin who kept her men from beating her to death, Aunt Arlene still disliked him, her sister would chalk it up to mere jealousy of the fact that her sister had a man that truly did love her and was faithful once they married.
During one of Aunt Arlene ‘s visits, she asked her brotherin-law while she was at their house in the kitchen with him as he made himself lunch, “Does Cyrene know?” He asks, “Know what?” my Aunt says, “About your son?” “I don’t have a son, I got daughters, you know that Arlene.” Aunt Arlene was quick to go by any piece of gossip. She says, “That ain’t what I heard.” Uncle Darwin tells her, “Well what you heard and what I know for sure are two different things, ain’t they?” Right after that Mister Martin Blythe walked into the kitchen to talk to his boss, Martin Blythe was Uncle Darwin’s right-hand man for twenty years, the two men meeting on Mister Blythe doorstep in 1920.
Mister Blythe was a bit of a hustler and he liked to gamble, yet he always lost which is how Uncle Darwin ended up at his front door: during a card game where Mister Blythe was drunk, he bet his house and lost it. The man he lost it to wanted Martin Blythe to pay up so, prior to Uncle Darwin being the successor to his boss, he was sent with three other men to collect.
Mister Blythe would tell me during an off the cuff conversation, “When I answered the door, I was still a little hungover and couldn’t remember what the hell happened. Darwin and these guys were at my house saying they came to collect. I asked, ‘collect what?’ They said, ‘what you owe’. I got in your Uncle’s face and told him to get the fuck off my property and that I ain’tpayinnothin.”
It was fortunate for Mister Blythe that my Uncle could tell the man didn’t remember losing his house in a card game, so he and his men walked off. “Your Uncle came back to my house the next day by himself, he asked me if I remembered playing cards with a couple of men two nights ago” Mister Blythe did remember the game and losing, he just didn’t realize his loss was his house.
“Darwin made a deal with me, that if I moved out the house with no problems; he would see to it that I was alright. I knew what guys ran what around here, but I didn’t know your Uncle was with them.”
Uncle Darwin took care of Mister Blythe and after he got to know him, he realized they had a lot in common and the two became fast friends and over time would see each other as brothers, and when Uncle Darwin took over he had his brother Martin Blythe as his right hand.
So when Martin Blythe walked into the kitchen that day and seen Aunt Arlene sitting at the kitchen table and the look on his brother’s face, he knew what was going on. He nicely says, “Hello Arlene, how are you?” She flirtatiously says to him, “I’m fine sir, and you?” he replies, “I’m good thank you. Darwin, I need to speak with you.” Aunt Arlene says to Mister Blythe, “Actually Mister Blythe, my brother-in-law and I are in the middle of a very important talk, “ my Uncle interrupts her, “No we ain’t Arlene, leave my kitchen, now.”
She gets up and leaves while rolling her eyes at her brother-in-law. “I’ma see what my sister doing.” Uncle Darwin says to her, “Please do.” Once she’s out of sight, the two men start their discussion. “What was that all about?” Mister Blythe asks. My Uncle answers, “Guess.” While sitting in the same chair as Aunt Arlene at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in his hand, Mister Blythe says “Oh that again. What I don’t get is, why she so worried about that for?” My Uncle says, “She seems to think that means I cheated on her sister.” “But you didn’t know Cyrene when that happened, did you?”
Uncle Darwin gives Mister Blythe his sandwich and goes to make one for himself again, he says to Mister Blythe, “I was dating her, and she didn’t know it happened. She need not know, as long as I take care of her and those girls, that’s all that matters.” Mister Blythe says, “Well, a friend of ours needs a favor.” “What?” asks my Uncle while eating. “He wants to know if you could send men to help with some trouble he’s having.” Uncle Darwin asks, “What’s the trouble?” “Debts, deep ones.”
Uncle Darwin says, “A man should always pay his debts, Marty.” Mister Blythe smiles and takes a drink of his coffee, “ You’re absolutely right, he should.” When my father lived with Uncle Darwin and Aunt Cyrene, it wasn’t planned by my Uncle for my father to work for him.
Uncle Darwin didn’t care to deal with his nephew, he saw the boy as a country bumpkin who didn’t know anything. How was Grandolph’sUncle going to teach him to be a man? The lessons started when Aunt Cyrene made Uncle Darwin take daddy with him on a run he had to make. What my Aunt didn’t know was her husband was to meet some men about business and taking some kid along wasn’t what my Uncle had in mind.
But rather than hear my Aunt’s mouth, my daddy went with his Uncle to the pool hall. My daddy told me, “I was so happy to be going with my Uncle, man. He wouldn’t find out until years later how much I admired and respected him, he taught me how to be a man. He taught me a lot, and even though he wasn’t big on showin’ it, I could tell he loved me and, he treated me more like a son than my own daddy.”
Then he tells me, “We got to the pool hall and I was to stay in the car, but I had to go to the bathroom so, I got out. I went into the pool hall and I didn’t see my Uncle, so I asked the bartender where the men’s room at, I found it and went in, thinking maybe Uncle Darwin would walk in. When I walked out, I looked around and couldn’t find him.”
“Then I spotted a pool game going on so I went over and asked to play. Now, I didn’t know the guy I was playin against was connected, you know. We got to playin and I started to lose.”
He continues, “About time we got done, I owed this guy almost three thousand dollars. I looked around and I saw my Unclesittin’ at a table way back in a corner, talkin’ to one of his men, I think he’s ignorin’ the hell out of me over at this pool table, okay. What I didn’t know was from where he was sittin, he could see every move I made. I feared my Uncle more than that man who threatened to kill me, because I didn’t know what Uncle Darwin would do.”
One of his men had told him my daddy was losing at this pool game and that they weren’t going to let him go, my Uncle knew what he had to do.” He came over and tapped the man on the shoulder, when the guy turned around he looked at Uncle Darwin and asked him what he wanted. Uncle Darwin said, “That’s my family you got over in that chair.” The man said, ‘Is that right, sir. Well, your family owes me three thousand dollars from this game here.’ ‘Okay then,’ Uncle Darwin says, ‘How bout we play for it?’ The guy agreed.”
My daddy told me that in the end, the guy would lose five thousand dollars to Uncle Darwin. But the money wasn’t enough for him; he would have the man walk with him to his car, which was in an alley. Once at his vehicle Uncle Darwin made the guy stand a few feet back as he gets in his car, just then a man comes from around the corner and shoots the man in the head.
The shooter gets in the car and Uncle Darwin drives around to the front of the pool hall and tells the shooter to find me and bring me to his car I come out and Uncle Darwin is motioning for me to hurry up so I quickly get in. Before I could even close the back door, he’s yelling me, ‘I told you to stay in damn the car!!’”
Uncle Darwin didn’t have to kill that man, he did it cause of his reputation, he couldn’t let it be known that he got challenged by some two-bit hustler. My Uncle also feared that the man would come after my father over the money, yet Uncle Darwin would tell me when I got older that that would be the only time he would kill for no reason.
“That killing would be out of being paranoid on my part and you gonna go through that too, all men in this thing of ours do, it’s something you can’t avoid. The being paranoid don’t mean you gon kill somebody but, the feeling, it’s gonna happen to you.” He was right, when you enter this life and done seen men get beatings, shot up, chopped up, have been involved in people’s disappearances, or have pulled enough triggers on them, the paranoia sneaks up on you out of nowhere.
The first time it happened to me I had come home from watching a man get beat to death then chopped up, with his remains stuffed into bags and thrown into the river. I dreamed that night I was that man and woke up in a cold sweat, I started to fear that someone would come after me. I didn’t sleep for nights afterward. I started seeing things like men coming towards me with guns as I walked down the street, or if I was in my car, I’d think the person parked behind me was about to shoot at me.
My train of thought was so messed up at the time that some of my men thought I was doing coke. I wasn’t, but the way I acted was out of character for me, one of my men finally told Uncle Darwin and he sat me down and asked was I okay, I told him, yeah but he knew I was lying.
Working with my father in the family business was something I always wanted but he wouldn’t let happen, as his son he didn’t like that idea and initially frowned on me working for Uncle Darwin. My leaving school wasn’t the only thing that happened to me at age sixteen, I also had to leave a lot of my friends behind too. I couldn’t hang with many of them because I was a part of the family business, and my father thought my having school age buddies would interfere with the jobs I had.
You don’t go and hang out at the local diner with such friends anymore, when you’re a kid in this thing, for according to my father: “Son, you’re friends change from the ones you have to the ones who have an understanding of what it is you do now, and whose fathers have that understanding as well.” In other words, I could only be buddies with boys whose fathers were a part of The Life, for those boys too, were being groomed to be in this thing.
You have to mature rather quickly in The Life, the new friends I had had been in their family businesses for at least three years longer than I had been in mine, so, some of what I learned came from them too, especially a young man named Ralph Atchenberg.
The Atchenberg’s lived three blocks from us; I remember how I became friends with Ralph: while I was walking home from the store, he spotted me and got to calling out “Hey boy! Boy! I’m talking to ya!” I turned around and seen this tall lanky kid running towards me, so I started to run away from him. He chased me for about two blocks until I had to stop and catch my breath, when he caught up with me, with shallow breath he told me his name “My names Ralphie Atchenberg, buddy.”
He extended his hand for me to shake it, as he spoke, I slowly extended mine and shook his, “Hi I’m Mason Wilkes.” He says, “I know cause I know who your dad is. Do you know who my dad is?” I shook my head no, so he continues, “My dad is Franklin Atchenberg, he owns a bunch of department stores and such around town and some in other states. He’s a well-known guy, we’re always having people over to our house.”
I said, “Your house sounds like mines, my daddy know a lot of people too. What school you go to?” “None, I help my dad with our family businesses now, so I can’t go anymore.” “So, what do you go by, what they call you?” He says, “Well, some people call me Ralph or Ralphie, although I hate both.” I said, “How about I call you Atchenberg?” Ralphie grinned, “Okay then, and what do I call you?”
I said, “Just Mason”. Atchenberg proved to be a loyal friend and he was great with any weapon you put in his hands, and for him to be seventeen and be able to kill without remorse impressed me. He told me after we robbed a local store together that his father toughened him up by making him watch as his father killed his own brother-in-law.
“No true reason for it,” Atchenberg told me, “other than not liking him.” I asked, “How did your daddy kill him?” He said matter-of-factly, “By beating him to death with a crowbar. I watched him beat the life of my Uncle, I always chalked it up to my daddy had a reason he didn’t like him that nobody knew of. Anyways, when we went back home my daddy made me go to bed and told my mother her brother had a bad accident and was dead. I never told her the truth, and that was two years ago.”
I sat there staring at him, not understanding why would his father kill his Uncle for no reason, but it would turn out Atchenberg’s father was a trained killer who had no problems with murdering anyone anytime he needed to, and killing his brotherinlaw was necessary because the guy was getting careless with who he would associate with and it brought trouble to where when Ralphie was thirteen years old, he was kidnapped and held captive for almost two weeks.
He was never told his Uncle died for putting his nephew’s life in danger. That’s something I would come to understand in my family and while in The Life period: if you become a loose cannon, we deal with you the only way possible. We don’t tolerate guys who run off at the mouth or associate themselves with people who we can tell will cause problems, and if we tell you to leave that problem alone, and you don’t, we make sure you’re never heard from or seen again.
Ralph would never become a part of the Alexander family and I never became a part of his, instead, we remained friends throughout our time in The Life. It would be a year later in 1946, when I turned eighteen and Atchenberg nineteen, that a member of his family had to be taken out.
The guy made the mistake of getting involved in drug dealing; he started by selling heroin and on one deal his supplier gave him a bad batch of it and he sold some of it to a new customer, well, the new customer along with some of his friends decided they wanted to try this new dope so they got to shooting up.
The dope they got was so bad that one guy died while the new customer and the friend he had become ill, thus, these two came after Achtenberg’s family member. The guy told no one in their family about his side job and when Achtenberg’s car got shot up and he and his father knew Ralphie nor Mister Atchenberg had done nothing to warrant anyone to kill his son or himself, Mister Atchenberg approached the family member and asked what had he been doing outside the family.
The guy was afraid for his life, which was natural considering he was about to lose it for let me tell you something as far as being a boss: never underestimate their intelligence. For if you’re thinking Franklin Atchenberg had no idea what his man had been up to, think again, see, Mister Atchenberg was two steps ahead of this guy, the day his son car got shot up was the day he started making inquiries.
He would find out two days later what the guy was doing and how it got Ralphie’s car full of holes, Atch would tell me later what his daddy had him to do: “I had to get four other men together and take the idiot to an empty warehouse. Since it was my car that got shot up, it was up to me to decide how this guy was to go, so, I drove my daddy’s tow truck to the place. When I got there, the boys had already beat the hell out this dumb ass, I got out the truck and grabbed a long-rusted chain that I had, I took one end and wrapped it around his neck the other end I hooked on to the trucks crane and hoisted his ass in the air.”
I asked Ralphie did they go back and take the guy down at some point.“My daddy sent men later to finish the job, at first I thought to bury him alive but I figured that would’ve been letting him off too easy.” I said, “What about puttin’ him in acid after shootin’ him in the head or somethin’ like that?”, Atch says, “The boys did that once they realized he was dead.”
I figured as much, besides, even if Ralphie’s car wasn’t riddled with bullets, the idiot still would have gotten it because he disobeyed one rule: No man in the Atchenberg Family was to get involved with drugs, they weren’t allowed to know anybody that sold it or used it, and if they became sellers or users themselves and the boss told them to stop and they didn’t, then, your problems become their problems and you’ll be a problem they eliminate.
When I worked with Uncle Darwin at age sixteen, he would have a similar problem to occur in our family. One of the things you must deal with in The Life on all levels of the Totem pole is loyalty, I considered that at the top of the list on what was important in our line of work, so I had no problems with the code of silence. Just as we may not deal with drugs, we are also expected to keep our mouths shut and there are no exceptions to this rule.
Yet some guys screw up, some become disloyal for money which is what happened to my Uncle: a guy, who was close to becoming a Capo, sold out the family for a high price. This would mean Uncle Darwin would have to go and wipe some people out, the reason being is because this man gave vital information about our family to a Soldier of a rival, not only did he do it for money he also did because he was told he would make more money with that rivals family for giving the info and switching sides.
My Uncle found this out and sent me with a crew of nine other guys to get rid of this rat and damn near all the members of the rival family, this elimination spree we were on took place for three weeks in February of 1944, and it wasn’t easy to do. When someone in my line of work kills someone else, there’s planning involved, we had to know our targets by name, where they lived, what they did during the day, their wives, their children, their routine, everything.
We never followed a man home or in the open, when you’re a killer you have to keep such a low profile or you’re dead yourself, no one knows who you are and you talk to no one. One the men I had to take out I shot from a rooftop of a building across the street, I had to do it that way because the building I shot from gave me the best view to hit him right in the head but, it also had people living in it so I took a helluva risk and went to the roof.
I crouched down in a dark corner, holding my Remington rifle steady, and waited for him. It would take two hours for the target to come out and when he did, I rose slow and steadied my gun on the roofs edge, aimed and fired one quick shot to the side of his head. I didn’t stay to watch him hit the ground. I left the building to hear people screaming at the sight of a dead man’s body lying on the sidewalk, that’s the thing when you’re in this business, you never know when and where death may find you. I walked to my car and got in and drove back to the hotel I was staying in, I packed up my things and checked out; I drove throughout the night to get to Uncle Darwin’s house, arriving there at four in the morning. He answered the door and took me into his study; he had heard about the hit from a phone call from one of his men.
He asked me, “How long did you have to wait for him?” “About two hours.” I said. “You weren’t nervous?” he asked, I said “No, no sir. I was colder than anything. I was on the roof of the building across the street, it had a good view.” He chuckled. “Okay then,” he says, “come back later and I’ll have somethin’ for you.” “Yes, sir.” I said. We both get up and leave his study, he walks me to the front door and says, “Mason before you leave, I want you to go to Mister Blythe’s house down here, it’s on the other side of the street four houses down.”
I turned around and walked on down, just to find Mister Blythe still awake, sitting in his living room listening to music. I didn’t even have to knock on his front door when next thing I now, he’s coming out of it. We walk back up the street and Mister Blythe goes inside the house with my Uncle and I get in my car to drive home. Over time I noticed how with every job I got to take someone out, I no longer wasn’t afraid of death, before then the thought of a dead body scared The Life out of me, but no more.
Now I wasn’t like Atchenberg, something else happened to him prior to meeting me that made him have an impersonal feeling towards killing, it was like second nature to him. I say that because I watched men be killed too; I was with my father when I saw it. I stood there while he shot a man in the head over a debt the guy owed to my Uncle, from that and my killing those two men is why to this day I pay whatever I owe—and in cash! Hell, I’ve been on the other side of a beating before, it happened when I was seventeen about a month after I went to work for Seth.
A cousin of mine named Walter on my mother’s side, whose mother had decided to have him get a job, had asked permission to come and work for Seth, Walt’s father was hesitant at first knowing of Seth’s reputation of being a bit of a loose cannon but my cousin’s mother assured him that their son would be fine and it would be okay.
Walter showed up at Seth’s house and immediately Seth had us going down in the deep South to make a run with a load of gin. Walter drove, he had made such runs before but not down South, and not to where we had to go. I realized later that Seth didn’t care what happened to us as long as we made that delivery, his failing as a boss wasn’t as bad as his not giving a damn about me and Walter. While making this run, we did our best to be careful but, it wouldn’t help when he and I found ourselves stopped by a gang of white men standing along the road we were traveling.
Walter slowed the car to a stop as two of the men approached the car, one standing on my side of the car and the other questioning Walter. “So boy, what the hell you and your friend here doin’ down in these parts??” His pal says to me, “Yeah boy what y’all got in this truck??” I wasn’t nervous but Walter was, he was shaking and his voice trembled as he answered. “We’re from up north, just down here on business, sirs”
Just then a police officer shows up and asks the man talking to Walter what was going on, “Officer, these two boys claim they down here on some business.” The officer walks up to the car to my side, he looks at me for a minute before telling me to open the car door, the moment I do, he pulls me out the truck and hits me with his nightstick and the pal strikes me too. I fall to the ground and these two started to kick and stomp on me, next Walter is pulled out the truck and thrown into the gang of white men who beat him.
I got hit with blow after blow to where I lost consciousness, when I came to it was dark, Walter and was gone and so was our gin. Despite the pain to my body and head I got to my feet and went to find my cousin, about half a mile away I found his body hanging from a tree. He had been beaten badly and hung, I fell to my knees and cried. I was scared for about a minute when I heard my name, “Mason! Mason! It’s me, turn around!”
It was one of Uncle Darwin’s men, my Uncle had found out where my cousin and I had been sent from a phone call from a friend of his who had recognized us from when Walter and I had stopped inside a local diner for something to eat. The friend had followed us from a long distance to where we were stopped by that group of white men. The man had quietly gotten out of his truck and hid behind some trees and watch what happened when the group took my cousin and left, that’s when the friend went to call my Uncle.
Uncle Darwin then sent his man named Daniel Hawthorne, who found me shaking and bloodied. He started walking towards me and then looked up to see my cousin’s lifeless body hanging, Daniel looked down at me while some other men walked up to us. “It’s alright,” he says, “they’re with me.” He tells them, “C’mon boys, get him down from there.” Two cut my cousin down while two others get me to my feet and help me to Hawthorne’s cars; Daniel Hawthorne went by “Danny Boy”, a nickname given to him by his father when he was five and it stuck.
They lay my cousin in the back seat of one car while Daniel puts me in the back of his car, “Lay down on the floor and cover yourself up with this.” He hands me a dirty blanket, then has his men get in the back as well and tell them to place their feet gently on me and look at normal as possible. Once in the driver’s seat, Daniel calls me, “Mason??”, “Yes, sir??” I answer. Danny Boy said to me, “Don’t you worry about a thing, you stay down until we get outta here, you understand?” “Yes,” I answered I stayed on the floor with the men’s feet on me until it was safe to sit up. Hawthorne was from Georgia, he was in the deep south on business and had gotten word from my Uncle’s friend that he wanted to know where did Seth send Walter and me. At first, Uncle Darwin didn’t understand why would Seth send us to make a run like that, he figured that if Seth would do that then he should have sent men with us to make sure we were safe.
Walter’s death is one of the reasons my Uncle worried, he knew, just as Seth did—you don’t send two black boys to the deep south without protection. Seth’s motives weren’t trusted, hell, he could have sent other guys to do that, why send Walter and me?? My cousin and I had been missing for an entire day, no one heard from us, we hadn’t gotten word back to Seth if we made the delivery or not, and he didn’t care to find out.
This is the same man who, at age twenty, fired shots into a group of children playing outside because he was chasing a rival who ran into the group to keep Seth from shooting him. His rounds hit six kids and one died from their injuries as a result, to keep Seth from going to jail for life or from being executed, Uncle Darwin paid off the judge and paid the child’s family to keep quiet. My Uncle’s money is one of the reasons my father never had a record, Uncle Darwin was always paying off a judge, a police captain, a police officer, a prison guard, someone that was higher up on the system chain.
Therefore Politicians meant nothing to my Uncle outside of their political power, and the reason men like my Uncle meant something to the Politicians was because of his power; my Uncle also liked to remind them of what he knew of them, letting them know in various ways that if he went down, they were going too. So when that group of white men beat and killed my cousin and left me there to die, they paid for it.
Daniel Hawthorne’s brother was in politics too, Judge R.E. Hawthorne would be the judge and jury late one night when that group stood before the Honorable Judge in an abandoned farm house. I remember sitting there at a long table next to Daniel, looking at those cowards as they stood in front of us, it had to be about sixteen of them with numerous men from the Hawthorne, Alexander, and some from the Achtenberg families forming a line in front of them.
Some of those men from that group realized whom they had messed with and everyone there knew the Judge. Judge Hawthorne had one of our men bring forward one killer, and the Judge spoke “Hello, sir. How are you this evenin’?”, the man responds, “Fine your Honor.” “Do you know why you and your comrades are here??”
The man doesn’t speak so the Judge continues, “Sir, you and your comrades are here because you have committed a great crime against these gentlemen sitting to my right and to my left. When you trailed, and captured those two black boys and beat them and killed one of them, you not only committed a heinous atrocity against them and their families but also against this great State of Georgia and since I help to run the State I can speak for the State when I say, I hereby sentence you and your friends to death, execution style, may God have mercy on your souls, gentlemen.”
We all got up from the table and walked out, leaving our men standing in front the group to do their jobs. I remember hearing gunshots ringing out and the men crying and begging not to die, yet it was too late, it’s called a life for a life. Although I was glad to know those men were dead, I also had the job of having to tell my cousin’s mother what had happened to her son, I felt horrible in doing that. I went to her house with Daniel, when she saw me she broke down crying, I believed she already knew what I was there for.
I hugged her and walked her into her living room while Daniel stood near the front door I had to muster up the nerve to tell her how her son died, when it came out she buried her head in my lap and wouldn’t stop crying, I comforted her as best I could before Daniel and I left.
I felt bad because my cousin was her only child. Two weeks later we were at his funeral, Uncle Darwin paid for it but didn’t attend instead Aunt Cyrene and the girls came in his place along with Martin Blythe, and he was looking for Seth, believe it or not. He needed not to worry, there was no way in hell Seth would show his face at that funeral.
I worked for my Uncle from age sixteen to age seventeen; I stopped being a hitman because my father was being uncomfortable with me as his son being a murderer, but by then it was too late, I loved The Life too much and what I was doing.
I loved the power of it, and it was a silent power in knowing I was the reason punk’s fathers didn’t come home last night, the power of knowing I could make them suffer without laying a hand on them. What my father could see developing in me was also in Seth. Uncle Darwin had used Seth’s thirst for blood to his own advantage, and that got messed up when Seth fired shots into that group of children.
In 1944, I had just turned seventeen and two months after I was forced into semi-retirement, my father was kidnapped by a group of men while checking on things for my Uncle, he was held captive for a week and tortured, when he was let go he was dropped off about a block away from Uncle Darwin’s house. He stumbled to the man’s house and couldn’t even ring the bell, the maid looked and see this man trying to get her attention and when she went to the door and opened it, she saw my father laying there and yelled for my Aunt.
Aunt Cyrene came out from the kitchen and seen a man lying there, at first she thought it was Uncle Darwin because he hadn’t gotten home yet but, as she got closer she could tell who it was. My daddy told me, “I could hear her screamin’ my name and makin’ the maid help her to get me into the house. She was just cryin’ and strugglin’ to get me upstairs when she got me to the spare room that’s when Uncle Darwin comes home. She tells the maid to undress me and get me into bed and I remember seein’ her run downstairs and I remember her tellin’ your Uncle what happened and I either fainted or fell asleep.”
He continues, “When I woke back up, it was dark outside and I heard a voice ask me was I alright, I look over and it’s Uncle Darwinsittin’ in a chair in the corner of the room. I said, ‘I’m alright, I’ll be okay. How you doin’?’ He said, ‘I’m fine. I made some inquiries to see who did this, and, uh—‘“ I stopped him and said, “ ‘Why you do that?? We both know who behind this. I don’t want him to touch my children, I ain’t forgot what he did all those years ago, killed that little boy, trying to bump some guy off and took the life of a child instead. Blood or no blood, I’ll kill that sick bastard myself he come near my girl or my boy.’ My Uncle said, ‘No need to go that far ‘dolph, the boy may be a little touched but he ain’t stupid. You get some rest, I’ll see you in the mornin’.” He gets up and leaves. I laid there, thinkin’ about you and your sister, my thoughts got to runnin’ away from me.”
I left the Alexander family and joined Seth’s, but it wasn’t out of betrayal of my father or my Uncle, but fear, I feared what Seth would do next without realizing just how much danger I was putting myself, and my sister, into.
I got up that next morning early; I went to the train station and got a ticket to Charleston, South Carolina when I arrived I didn’t go to Seth’s house for although he was blood, there’s still a protocol of how you approach a man in The Life. I checked into a small out of the way motel, the next day I asked around to see if Seth was still operating out of Charleston, I found out he was and then I asked about some of his men.
I found one who was kind enough to meet with me at a diner, he asked me who I was and what did I want with Mister Beckett, I told him, “My name is Mason Grandolph Wilkes, I came here from Chicago Illinois, and I need to see him.” The contact says, “Okay, I’ll get the message to him and I’ll meet you back here tomorrow at one o’clock.”
The next day, the contact showed up at the diner. “Mister Beckett would like to see you, Mister Wilkes. He says that it’s nice to have family pay a visit.” With that, we left the diner and went to Seth’s house, when I got out the car and walked up the path to his front door, Seth came out smiling and greeted me with open arms. “Mason, Mason, Mason! My boy! Look at you! A grown man now, huh?” “No, I’m seventeen still, but I’ll be eighteen soon. Wow, you ain’t changed at all, how you been?”
He then walks me back to his house and we go inside, “I’ve been okay. Just dealing with things, you know. So, how’s school?” “Oh, I ain’t in school no more.” We go into his kitchen and sit at the table. It’s dark, no lights except for the sunlight shining through the windows; it was messy, dirty dishes in the sink and the floor needed to be mopped.
We sat and talked, “I used to work for Uncle Darwin. I worked for him since last year, but my daddy told me I needed to stop so, that’s why I’m down here. I need work but since I can’t work for our Uncle I need money. You know my mamma and daddy got a divorce.” “Why?” he asked. “Mamma was cheatin’ on daddy and he found out and he divorced her.” “He lives by himself now and she married that man she cheated on daddy with.” He then asks, “How’s your sister?”, but I kept it under control, “She’s fine.” I said, wanting for him to make his way around to Uncle Darwin.
“How’s the grand old man?” he’s talking about our Uncle, “He alright from what I know, I didn’t talk to him, his orders always came from one of the guys, and you know he wasn’t a big talker anyway.” “Yeah, I know. How long did you work for him and what did you do?” “Oh, uh, I worked for him almost a year and I was a sharpshooter.”
He looks at me surprised then chuckles, “You handled a gun?? You?? Mister, I’m too scared??” “Yeah, I did. I was scared at first but, I had no choice but to get up the nerve when I got the order.” He asks, “How did you feel after you did it?” “I felt nothin’. I shot, and walked out the room.” He smiles at me, “Well, I think I got somethin’ for a young man of your talents. First though, we gotta get you settled in, so where’s your stuff?”
I said, “It’s at the motel.” “The motel? No family of mine is stayin’ at some motel. Oh no, you’ll stay here with me. I got three empty rooms you can take your pick from upstairs, let’s go.” We head upstairs so I can pick a room, one is next to his bedroom and the two others are further down the hall, I picked the one furthest from his room.
We then went to go get my things, Seth went to the motel with me and helped me pack my bags, he sees a picture of him and my father together back when they were little boys. “You know,” he says, “Your daddy, and I used to be really good friends.” He sits on the bed, “we did many things together—even dated the same girls. Funny how things change.” I asked him, “What changed them? Why you two not friends anymore?”
He looks down at the picture and says, “Long story. So, you about ready?” “Yeah, I’m ready.” I check out and we go to his house, I look up and this woman is standing on his front porch, he says, “That’s my lady friend. Her name’s Lenore.” She sees me and says “Hey there!” “Baby, this my little cousin Mason, he gonna be stayin’ with me.” “Well hi Mason, my name’s Lenore Wilson. How old are you?” Seth answers instead, “He’s a young man, baby.”
“Oh, I see. Nice to meet you, Mason.” She goes inside first, I look over at Seth as she goes towards the kitchen. “She’s nice lookin’.” I tell him. He says, “I know, but don’t get any ideas, c’mon. Let’s get you settled in.” We get to my room and Seth turns on the light, “Now, I need to ask you something, what made you find me?” “Seth I told you, I need work. I knew you were down here because Aunt Cyrene told me one time when I asked her what happened to you.”
“I kinda figured that’s how you found out about me, Aunt Cyrene always loved me, always cared. The grand old man used to care too, about me. I don’t know why he stopped,” he then sits in a chair in the corner of the room. “He sent me down here to do a job and then told me never come back, and I’ve lived here ever since. I was twenty years old then, I’m thirty-nine now.” I looked over at him and carefully said, “I heard you killed a child…”
He looks at me, “They won’t let me live that down, will they?? Everybody done heard that about me but that ain’t what happened. I was goin’ after a guy who owed the grand old man money—the family money and uh, the guy ran into a group of children outside playin’. Before I knew it I fired my gun and one of those bullets hit a kid, I didn’t know it had until it was reported in the newspaper the next day. Your Uncle paid off who he needed to pay off to keep me from goin’ to jail, then sent me down here like I said.”
“So just like that Uncle Darwin told you to leave?” “Yeah cause the little boy died hours later. But the grand old man knew I didn’t mean for that to happen, I made a bad decision.” I sat on the end of the bed and asked, “Do you regret it? The shootin’?” He looks at me and grins, “Mason you know you ain’t allowed to have any regrets in this business. Hey, go downstairs and help Lenore get dinner ready for me okay?”
“Alright.” I get up and go down into the kitchen. After dinner, I help Lenore clean up I can tell she has something on her mind but is scared to say it, so I help her out by starting the conversation. “How did you meet my cousin, Lenore?” “We was at a party and he asked me to dance, he was so sweet. We danced three times before he asked me out, that was two years ago. Sometimes I don’t understand what he does, like he’ll leave in the middle of the night or men will come over and they’ll all go down into the basement and they are down there for hours. I didn’t know Seth even had family until you showed up, he don’t talk about them much.” “Men in our family ain’t big talkers.” I told her.
She says, “You Seth’s cousin, right?” “Yes, ma’am. I’m his little cousin, my daddy is his cousin too.” She looks at me, “Oh. Well, if you don’t mind me askin’, who is Nicholas?” I chuckle, “Oh! That’s Seth’s daddy, he was my Uncle Nicky. He dead now though.” “Your Uncle Nicky? How he die?” “He had a bad accident and died from it.” “Well I only ask because Seth never mentioned his daddy to me, he always talks about his mamma though, and his wife. I wonder if he’ll ever make me his wife one day.” I wanted to tell her so badly, I doubt it; Seth was still in love with and grieving over the loss of his first wife, Doris.
She died in a car accident at age twenty, Seth was so distraught over her death that he went missing for two months before anyone found him. He was hiding out in some slum motel, not bathing or shaving, his mother made him come home and he went to stay with her until he got himself together. This was the same time he was sent to track down and take out that guy that owed the money, and I believe that’s how he made that decision that killed that little boy.
Any man when he’s distraught may make an ill decision, the thing with that man being in The Life is making a mistake a hundred times out of a hundred will be detrimental to the family. If Seth had gone to jail then that would have brought the police down on us so, our Uncle had to grease many palms to keep that from happening. After dinner was over, Seth had Lenore clear off the table and go into the kitchen while he and I talked.
He gets up and closes the doors to his dining room and says, “I decided you’ll have the same job for me as you did the grand old man.” As he sits back down at the table he asks, “Are you good with all guns or what?” I said, “Yeah, pretty much a lot of them but my favorite in my Remington rifle. One of the jobs I had I used it to whack a guy while on a rooftop.” “You was on a roof and killed a man? Pretty impressive, but why the roof?”
“Because I could tell it had the best view for my shot and it was also the best hiding place.” He looks up at me while drinking a glass of Jack Daniels then asked, “Was the building abandoned?” “No, but like I said I picked it because of its view for the shot. The people in the building didn’t come out or notice me.” “Lucky for you, then. Do you think you could do something like that again if need be?”
I said, “Sure, just tell me who and where and it’s done.” “Wow man, I’m very impressed by you. Well, I tell you what, you’ll have your first job in about two days that’s when cousin Walter will be arriving to help you make a run. You’ll both be leavin’ out late Wednesday night, I got some gin I need to Georgia, but don’t worry you’ll be alright. I got people down there expectin’ you, so, with that said, I’ma head on up. The little lady awaits, good night Mason.”
“Night, Seth.” Walter finally showed up early Wednesday morning, when I got out of bed and went downstairs for breakfast he and Seth were in the dining room eating, Lenore was, as usual, in the kitchen still cooking. Seth says, “Have a seat young man,”, I do so and Walter looks at me amazed. “Wow,” he says, “I ain’t seen you in years, Mason.” I said, “I know.” “How you been? How the family up north?”
I answer while smiling, “I’m fine, the family is okay.” I then have a seat, the moment I do Lenore brings me a plate of eggs, ham, biscuits and gravy. Then she places a glass of orange juice and a glass of milk next to my plate, then she sweetly asks would I like some pancakes. While she puts four on my plate, Seth talks to Walter and me, “Now guys, what I’ll need you both to do is make a delivery for me down further South. The people I deal with know you comin’ so you got nothin’ to worry about. I want Walt to drive though cause he’s better with directions.”
“What needs to be delivered is a truckload of gin, it has to go to a speakeasy down there and it has to get there no later than Friday night. It should take you no longer than a day and a half to get down there and you should be on your way back by Friday afternoon.” Considering what happened we didn’t even make it halfway to our destination, that’s one of the things I can never forget nor forgive Seth for, he knew he should’ve sent men with us. Yet I now believe he did that because of me, I truly believe that he wanted me to be the one hanging from that tree, he was so jealous of my father and wanted to head our Uncle’s family so bad he would’ve done anything to get that top spot.
His first attempt on Uncle Darwin’s life came two months after Seth was kicked out the family, he had gotten this small crew of men together in 1930 to send to kill our Uncle when he lived in Charleston but the hit didn’t go as planned because the guys sent had put a car bomb on the wrong car. The second time was two years later when Seth was twentyseven and his family had grew, but, his men still weren’t smart enough to take him out, they were ordered to put a bullet in him as he came out his front door on what was Uncle Darwin’s fortyseventh birthday, he didn’t come out all day.
That night the two would be assassins seen a man come from the back of the house but he came no further than the end of the driveway, all the sudden the two men heard a gun cock and one felt a barrel pressed up against his head.
A shot was fired into one man and then into the other. Now, that man they seen coming from the back? That was Uncle Louie, he had come by to see how his sister was doing and he stopped because he thought he had left his car keys in his sister’s house.
The assassin was Mister Jacob Dalton Reily, one of the new men in the family along with his fraternal twin brother Johnny Walker Reily. Once this got back to Seth he fumed that his Uncle was still alive, but he was also scared because he had no idea who Mister Reily was. Seth knew every man in the Alexander family, but this one. Jacob Dalton and his brother Johnny Walker were from Chicago, Illinois, the brothers had joined the family in 1925 at age eighteen.
They operated out of Chicago while working for the family, their joining happened by way of Mister Blythe traveling to Chicago to see about a sick relative and hearing about these boys named the Reily Brothers, he asked around about them and found out that the boys at one time worked for a local Chicago boss and when that boss suddenly died from a heart attack and the members went to jail, then worked for Capone as hitmen for a while. They were still associated with Capone when they joined the family, also as hitmen. There was no bad blood between the brothers and their former boss his letting them go on their own was a mutual decision.
When Mister Blythe heard of their reputation as excellent hitmen, he found out where they lived at and paid the brothers a visit. Johnny Walker answered the door that evening, “Hello young man, I know you don’t know me,” begins Mister Blythe, “my name’s Martin Blythe, I work for a very important man in Washington DC—“ Johnny stops him, “you work for Darwin Alexander. I’ve heard of him and you, sir, please come in.”
Johnny Walker had heard from one of his men that Martin Blythe was asking around town about him and his brother, but he already knew about my Uncle from his reputation. Jacob Dalton would be the only man, outside of our Uncle, that my father trusted. He would tell my father during one of their late into the night conversations, “My brother and I left our former boss in hopes to come and work for your Uncle. He told me about you first, then about Seth.”
Then after I joined my Uncle’s family, he would tell me something during a talk we had, “I had known about Seth for a long time prior to joinin’, I read about that kid they said he killed, and I heard other things about him from people in Chicago. His reputation travels, too.”
It was no longer my father who stood between Seth and our Uncles empire, it would also be a man whose very name, put fear in Seth down to the core.
Most men knew not to cross Darwin Alexander, his brothers-in-law were a different story altogether, boys who thought they were men who also believed they were tough guys. They were the ones who, once they knew what Uncle Darwin did to make his money or if they thought they knew how he did it, would smack Aunt Arlene around just so she would call her sister who would then beg her husband to do what he could to keep her sister from getting beat on anymore.
And, because he loved his Cyrene, Darwin would go to his sister-in-law’s house and beat the hell out of her new husband, my aunt would have six husbands, and with each one, her brother-in-law Dauh-win—how she pronounced his name, came to the rescue. This happened to my granddaddy, the one whose head Uncle Darwin rammed through the wall. Curtis Bristol would marry Arlene Burke in 1904, around the time she found out she was pregnant with the baby boy who would one day be my father.
However, Aunt Arlene’s pregnancy was like Aunt Madeline’s with the only difference being Aunt Arlene slept with granddaddy Curtis and a man named Grandolph Hayes Wilkes, Jr. Although my aunt never admitted it or denied it, most people knew Wilkes was a white man she fooled around with for money and that he made his fortune in the oil business.
Nobody knows how or where she met him or where he was from but, it’s believed once Aunt Arlene told him she was pregnant, he left town for he couldn’t let it be found out he got a colored woman pregnant, leaving Aunt Arlene to take care of this boy child by herself. The only thing certain is what Uncle Darwin knew about this so-called Grandolph:
“During my Pullman Porter days, I was a waiter on one car,” he told me. “I remember seeing your Aunt Arlene with this white man, it shocked me because negroes weren’t allowed to anywhere near a white person, much less a white man. She was sittin’ there with him, thinkin’ she was better than all the other negroes on the train.” Little did she know, this white man didn’t want her. He wanted a woman for the night and he knew she was available from her sleeping with various men on the train prior to meeting him.
“Now,” he continues, “you wanna talk about the whore of the year, that was your Aunt Arlene. That’s part of why she doesn’t like me, cause she knows I know her from back then and because I picked her sister over her. She thought I’d want her after damn near every man in creation done had her.” Yet here I was thinking it was about him and Seth, “It was that, too.” he says, “but when I was with her sister, your Aunt Madeline and I had already, well, you know. It ain’tsomethin’ I’m proud of.” I looked at him for a minute before I asked him, “So, is it true?” “Is what true?” I spoke with caution, “About Seth and you?”
He sighs and says, “Well that all depends on whose version of the story you wanna believe. Her version, along with everybody else, is that I fooled her into sleepin’ with me. The truth is, I didn’t, but as far as Seth, I don’t know myself. So, I say he my nephew and leave it at that.”
Relations in our family have never been right, it’s one of the reason that Aunt Arlene was “Aunt” and not grandma—she wanted no one to know she had grandchildren, saying I was her grandson made her an’ old woman so from the time I was six years old until her death, she was Aunt Arlene and that only in public and private. The first time I ever called her “grandma”, she threw a fit. She had come to visit us for the weekend when I was six and I said, “Grandma, can I hug you?” she looked down at me and told me in a stern voice, “Don’t you ever call me Grandma, boy. You call me Aunt Arlene from now on, you understand me??” My father would explain to me later her dislike of being a grandmother which, at first I was sad by because I liked being able to call her my grandmother but after I found out how she was in her earlier days, I would be happy that no one thought my grandmother was a whore.
When I found out that someone thought that about my Aunt Arlene that was nothing new because she wasn’t the only whore in the whole family. The only problem that happened was when my mother cheated on my father, which hurt him, and when asked why did she do it, she said, “I got tired of being the wife of a man who had no time for me. His friends came first, and so did his Uncle.”
My father’s running the family empire was first in his life and not my mother nor me, the only closeness my father and I had been because of our time in The Life. It gave us something in common, being men of honor, and I found out from Ralphie that it did the same for him and his father and some other young men in our line of work. “My dad never talked to me,” Ralphie told me. “once I was in, we talked all the time, and it wasn’t about school or girls anymore, it was about business and women.” I asked him “Women? Why women?”
“Because” he continued, “my daddy figured I’d be more interested in having sex with a grown woman by that point because the girls I dated didn’t believe in putting out. Pops sat me down and we had the talk about women. He gave it straight, no sugar coatin’.”
I told him, “Well, my daddy talked to me too. He told me I didn’t have time to be a daddy so don’t go around screwin’ anything in a skirt and to be careful if I had to.” I didn’t have sex with anyone for a long time, I loved the money I made from being in The Life than the thought of layin’ with some chick.
The women throw themselves at you once they realize who you are and what power you have, and if they know you got power and who you know then they know you got money which makes them flock to you. Yet as Uncle Darwin told me, “Just because they come in flocks don’t mean you gotta sock it to ‘em. See, the guys in our business who lay with any woman they can are putting their money at risk cause with babies, you lay you pay. Simple.”
I think it’s safe to say that considering Seth, Uncle Darwin learned that lesson all too well. Although he didn’t want to admit or not if Seth was his son, he took care of the boy after his father died. That too had a deep effect on Uncle Darwin because of how it happened:
Uncle Nicky was going with his brother to deliver food to a local church, as they were riding, Uncle Darwin got to telling his brother how he had prospered in The Life and how he now ran things, “I know,” his brother said. Then he asked, “How many men you got under you?” “Well, it varies in number, they all over the country. They do various thing for me.” “Do they kill?” Uncle Darwin told me, “I looked over at him, thinking, What kinda question is that??”
He had hitmen on his payroll of course, no man in his position was without such guys. The problem Uncle Darwin was to find out later is that his beloved brother worked for another family, hence his question, and hence him not answering it. Family relations did not matter to Boss Alexander, meaning, although his brother was his brother, he knew better what to and what not to answer. As Uncle Darwin dropped off the food, he heard gunshots ring out, and when he went outside, he found his brother slumped over the passenger seat with the door opened as he was trying to get out.
“My brother was dead. There was no revivin’ him at all. Those bullets tore through him like a tornado. I remember hittin’ the ground once I heard the shootin’ and realized it was over, I crawled to the back door and peeked out. I could see my brother slumped over the seat and his door open, and his body full of bullets.”
A boss of a rival family had put a hit out on him for trying to muscle in on their operations. He never told me if that was the truth or not, but I always believed that my Uncle had his brother killed because number one, he didn’t want his brother to put it together that Uncle Darwin and Aunt Madeline had slept together and two, in our profession, it’s against the rules to sleep with a woman who’s dating or married to another man in The Life.
It still amazes me that no one i n our family thought of how my Uncle took care of Seth after his father's death. I say that because it wasn't as if Aunt Madeline was poor or broke. Uncle Nicky left her with some cash, yet that money would run out and so Uncle Darwin jumped in to help take care of the boy. He even paid for his brothers' funeral, although Uncle Nicky had a life insurance policy; so why pay for an' already paid for funeral?? It was all for the benefit of getting an advantage in The Life, see, what Uncle Darwin's paying for the funeral was his way of getting his money back and then some by blackmailing Aunt Madeline into signing the policy over to him.
He did this by promising to tell how she slept with him and by saying that she didn’t know who Seth’s real daddy was. Not wanting him to do that, she signed the policy over to him and he took Seth’s name off as the beneficiary. With his father gone, Seth grew up with his mother and Uncle Darwin as his parents, this was in 1914 when Uncle Darwin was thirty-one years old and by that time had been running his own family for eleven years. From the time he was ten until he was sixteen, Seth didn’t know that Uncle Darwin ran things, all he knew was that his beloved Uncle was good enough to step in and be a father to him since his own was dead, nor did he know that this beloved Uncle slept with his mother.
When Seth turned sixteen Uncle Darwin had him do his first job, which was beating up people who owed the family money, that was harmless to our Uncle since, as he figured, the person who got their ass beaten wouldn’t run to the cops out of fear of retaliation from him. After a year, Seth would be given a gun and taught how to shoot and since Seth was a good marksman, Uncle Darwin gave him orders to eliminate men who owed the family money instead of punching them in the face.
No one objected to a sixteen-year-old shooting people, for Seth would be the first male in our family to be ordered to do so by Uncle Darwin. Aunt Madeline couldn’t say no to her son doing this because she feared what her brother-in-law would tell so, she let it go on. During this time, Seth would learn the ins and outs of the life coming to understand the codes and customs of those in our line of work. He wouldn’t dare betray the man who helped raise him, yet, as he was coming up to learn the life he was also being told things about this man he would take as truth and these “truths” would cause him to slowly turn against the man.
According to Seth, “The first story I heard about Uncle Darwin happened after I worked for him from an older cousin of mine. The story was about him and my mother, which was he slept with my mamma." Did he believe it?? "No, not at first," he would tell me, "because I was lookin' at how he jumped right in to help take care of me after my daddy died. But when I started hearin' stories he killed --not had killed--but killed my father, then I looked at him differently."
Knowing the things Seth did or attempted to do to our Uncle while I worked for both, for him to say that looked at our Uncle different is an understatement, it was he wanted the man’s head on a platter and delivered to his front door. It’s difficult taking in such revelations, finding out that your Uncle not only slept with your mother but also had your father taken out, and with no one explaining to you why your Uncle killed your daddy you draw your own conclusions, or maybe the conclusions of others.
Because of those two stories told him over and over again throughout his life, Seth began to think what everybody else believed: that Uncle Darwin killed his brother because he didn’t want him to find out he had slept with his wife. Some in the family looked to great-Great-grandma Alexander to tell the truth of it all, but she never spoke about what she believed. I’ve always thought that was denial on her part because no mother wants to think that one of her children would harm their own brother or sister—much less kill them.
Both of her boys grew up to be competitive men with Darwin being a bit more of a go-getter than his brother to the point, I’ve always believed, of murder. He would never speak of Uncle Nicky to Seth after Uncle Nicky died, nor would he speak of him in memory whenever the family got together and got to talking about his brother, instead he would leave and go into another room and pretend not to hear.
Guilt can be the best revenge on a man, for no matter how much he tried to deny it, it ate him up to know what he had done, Aunt Madeline would tell what she thought, in a letter she wrote to one of her sisters prior to her own death that made it way to Seth next to my father after Seth’s death, and finally to me after my father passed:
“My brother-in-law, accordin’ to the rules of his profession, figured he had to get rid of my husband ‘cause of what he and I had done. I know this is what happened because he had no other reason to do it; he loved his brother Nicholas too much to even think of doin’ such a thing to him in the first place. I loved Nicholas too, but his brother was a comfort to me while Nicky was away and I guess I wanted more than just long nights and long talks.” Later in the letter, she would describe Uncle Darwin as a “strong-willed charmer,” I always believed this was her way of saying he fooled her into sleeping with him.
In the beginning, being around Seth wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, he proved to be alright up until our cousin Walter got killed, after that, I watched him closely. Even then he was plotting to kill me and my father, and my sister would be his first casualty. Her death would be the only time I felt horrible about being a part of Seth’s family because she was my sister and I should’ve stopped him, and when he asked me was she in school yet, I should’ve known he was up to something.
“Yeah, you know she’s twelve now. I don’t remember what grade she is in now, though.” “You know what school she goes to?” “Nope. I know that she school age.” I didn’t realize Seth was setting me up because he already knew what school my sister attended and he also knew she was twelve and what friends she had and how she would walk two blocks to and from school every day, he even knew what path she took.
His questioning me was to pin it on me what he was going to have done to her, he figured that if I told him those things about her, then he could say I had a hand in her death. He even tried to use me to kill our Uncle, with him knowing that if you plan to hit a boss, you better have a damn good reason behind it; I’ve always believed that his going by hearsay is what stopped him, for Seth also knew that the Commission wouldn’t warrant such a hit nor would they say his reason is justified.
Wanting to kill your Uncle all because of some stories you heard isn’t strong enough evidence to want to bump the man off—no matter how true the stories are, he also knew that if he killed his Uncle, the hell he would pay for that wouldn’t come from the Alexander family, but from the Commission themselves. I remember when I worked for Seth, a made guy from another family disappeared because he was given an order but didn’t carry it out as he was told, he instead carried it out his way and not the way as ordered by the Five Families, this was a no-no because there were reasons the order had to done a certain way.
That wasn’t for him to worry about, though, his job was to do the job, one thing I learned from working for my Uncle is that you don’t get too far ahead of yourself, there were many times he told me to carry out an order a certain way and I thought he was crazy for wanting it done that way but, I did it. I didn’t have time to worry about if I’d die from taking out another member of The Life, I knew that might be the price I pay for what I was into.
My mother worried about my work, not about me being killed because of it though, her worry came from thinking she would be marked for death along with her newborn baby that she had with the man she cheated on my father with. It was one of the reasons I went to work for Seth—my mother had put me out after she found out about my new job, every time I went out the door for school she believed that’s where I was going.
When my teacher called my mother to see why I was late so much, her shock was the fact that when I left in the morning, I would leave on time. My mother asked other people if they knew where I was going in the mornings that’s how she found out about my being a hit man. She was told about my coming in and out of an abandoned building during the time I was supposed to be in school.
I was sixteen soon to be seventeen, what was I doing in an abandoned building? Who was I with? No one. Was I carrying anything? They couldn’t tell if I had anything on me or not. Then what? Well, I’d be in this building for hours at a time. Still, she had to find out what was going on with me, she would put two and two together when she heard about a murder happening on the same block as that vacant building I was going and coming from every other morning.
When local newspapers reported that a gunman hit three targets from this building on four separate mornings, that’s when my mother figured it out: My being late to school, my lies about going to study at someone’s house, my not always having homework. She told my father about all this, to which he answered, “Well Abigail, so the boy’s been late to school a few times.”
“It hasn’t been just a few ti mes, Grandolph. Try six times." "Okay, it's six times. What you want me to do about it? He lives with you." "Yeah, he does, but I know your damn Uncle. Does he work for him?? It ain't like I haven't figured anything out Grandolph and you--"
He stopped her, “Look, I’m not gonna have this conversation with you like this, okay? Calm down. I will talk to him and see what’s goin’ on.” “You didn’t answer my question.” My father knew my mother would not stop until he gave an answer, so, he tells her “No, he doesn’t work for my Uncle. He’s probably hangin’ out with the wrong crowd and testin’ the waters, you know? You don’t have to worry or be upset. What did the teacher say about his grades?” “His grades are fine but—” “Well see, there you go. He’s fine.”
“ Grandolph." "I'll talk to him." Next thing I knew, the talk turned into my not having a job. My mother (like most women in the family who were not an Alexander) never understood why Uncle Darwin always felt the need to call on his nephews. She didn't like my working in The Life, and after she found out what I was doing?? She never flat out said she didn't like my being a killer for my Uncle, but her tone of voice when she talked to my father said it all.
After he talked to me and told me I had to stop bumping guys off, my mother tells me I had to get out of her house with no reason but I knew what it was, fear. When you’re in this thing, you not only put yourself at risk but also your family members and my mother wasn’t stupid, she knew that if anybody came after me she would be a target too and my living under her roof was too risky for her and her new family.
I then got up and packed and headed to the train station to Seth, I couldn’t go live with my father because I feared for his life so Seth seemed like a better option. I never spoke to my mother again afterward, and the last time I would see her was in a coffin, out of respect for her and her new family, I stayed away. That would be twenty years later, with her dying when I turned thirty-seven years old, I attended her funeral and sat in the back so no one would spot me.
My father wouldn’t allow me to work under him, and he knew I worked for Seth but didn’t get me out much less get me away from that crazy bastard; getting me out would become the job of Jacob Dalton Riley. Jacob and his brother came to the family in 1928, at age eighteen, looking to join Darwin Alexander’s clan, it’s believed that their reason for wanting to join was because they wanted to help keep any families that weren’t Negro from taking over Mister Alexander’s family.
The real reason was that the police wanted to talk to Jacob’s brother Johnny about the murder of a Klansman. He had beaten to death the man without knowing he was a part of the KKK, how it happened was Johnny was walking home one night and had taken a shortcut when this man followed him, the man started called Johnny a nigger and at first, Johnny ignored him and kept walking but the man kept saying it.
Johnny stopped and waited for the man to come up on him, right when he did Johnny turned around and punched the man in the mouth. The man went to swing back but Johnny proved to be too fast for him and ducked his fist and came back up and punched him again. This time the man fell to the ground and Johnny got to kicking and stomping on the man, delivering blow after blow until the man was dead.
When he realized what he had done, Johnny ran out of the alley, the short cut he was taking, but he failed to look for witnesses and sure enough, there were quite a few. They would tell how they saw a black man stomp and kick an innocent white man to death but didn’t mention how the deceased kept taunting his killer. Some made what happened more than what it was, telling the police that Johnny threw the first punch which was true, but they didn’t tell how the man was taunting him and calling out his name.
What Johnny and his brother were to find out later was that the man that died was a Klansman, which was part of why Mister Blythe had to travel to Chicago, the Klan was threatening to kill Johnny and his brother plus, “all the niggers in that’s boys house!” Those good old boys wanted to come up North to string up some niggers, what those good old boys didn’t know was how connected most of those niggers were. Since the Riley brothers still worked for Capone, then it got to him first what happened, he then called in Johnny to talk.
“Capone told me I had to come in, he wanted to know from me what happened in that alley. I told him the truth about the man calling me a nigger and how I let my temper get the best of me and before I knew it, I killed the guy with my bare hands. I remember he just sat there at first, he didn’t speak, he was deciding what to do with me. Although he understood my anger and how it led me to kill that man, he decided my brother and I would lie low and then, we had to get out of town.”
It had to be both him and his brother because Capone figured that if the Klan came after one, then they would come after the other. This was part of why Uncle Darwin talked with Capone in Dixies restaurant that night, it wasn’t just simple horse playing but see how his boys were doing. Al Capone truly did like the Riley brothers which is why he sent them to my Uncle, he didn’t want them to die at the hands of the Klan.
Once the brothers were safe with our family, Capone took care of the Klan as only he could, and I can imagine you’re wondering how did he do that? First, he tried to reason with the group, trying to get them to see how killing a man for standing up for himself doesn’t profit anyone, they didn’t care to hear that and tried to come after Capone, so, the man did the only thing he could do, he did the same thing that a couple of my Uncles’ friends did for him when Uncle Darwin was nineteen years old.
Like Johnny, my Uncle faced a bigot at age nineteen who taunted him and called him names, the only difference was this bigot was a police captain who was patrolling and seen my Uncle walking down the street. “I think I pissed him off because he could tell he didn’t scare me. I had been through enough to where I didn’t fear any man, I didn’t care if you was black or white or whatever—I didn’t give a damn.”
I asked, “So, you was a black man in the wrong place or…?” He said, “Naw, I was a black boy, who was in the wrong place, which was outside. At night, alone. The officer that stopped me said, “where you goin’, boy?” I had just got done makin’ a run for my boss, and I was goin’ to one of our guys who would take my message to the boss. I didn’t tell him that, though, so I said, “I had to go see a sick family member of mine and I was going home from they house.” I chuckled. He continues, “Now that wasn’t the best lie to tell, but I was tryin’ to hurry up and get my report back to my boss cause he had expected it and I was already late delivering it.”
One thing I learned in the life was don’t fear any man, for the men in the life with you are your brothers, your family and they protect you. My Uncle knew that if anything happened to him, his boss would find out and there would be hell to pay. “In this thing, you fear your boss more than any other man livin’. Your boss is the one that says if you breathe the next day or even in the next minute. Those police officers didn’t know who I was when they stopped me, jailed me for no reason, and beat the hell outta me.”
I then asked about a limp he had, I always thought he got it from that. He tells me, “Oh no, no nono. My limp came from when I was still kinda new in my family and I was tight with this guy named Oliver Fitzroy who was a made man. I had one of those bosses who liked to test his men, especially the new ones, so one night, he had me come in and he wanted to see how far I’d let my temper take me. He knew I was kinda a hot head, so. He had Fitzroy get in my face and start talkin’ shit. I could deal with that but, my boss knew that callin’ me a nigger would piss me off, so of course, Oliver says that to me.”
My Uncle’s reaction was stupid for a few reasons, according to him: “I went at him with my fist and tried to hit him in the face. Number one, that was dumb of me because in the life you are not to hit a made man under no circumstances, number two Fitzroy was a big guy and his punches were death, he hit you one time and you were a goner. When I went to hit him he ducked and came back up and knocked my ass into stacked tables and chairs, which is how I got this limp. I twisted my leg or ankle and never went to see about it.”
His not going to a doctor about his twisted leg would become common practice for him. Not going to doctors to see about himself, instead, he would have doctors come to his house and paid them under the table for their visits. He had this done when my father was beaten up and dropped off near his house; Aunt Cyrene called the family doctor the next morning to examine my father, he would recover but part of him wouldn’t be the same again.
He and Seth had something in common in they both loved my Uncle that neither could say no to being a part of his crime family, the only thing was, as my pops told me, “Uncle Darwin made a difference between me and Seth when we was thirteen and fourteen by always sayin’ wrong shit to Seth from the time Seth was nine years old. He’d call Seth ugly if they were in front of people. It was as if he didn’t like his own blood, and don’t let me be around, damn.”
That shocked me to hear because of how our Uncle was so quick to help raise Seth but, his attitude towards him changed once the stories of him being Seth’s father started, and I’ve always believed Aunt Arlene helped to keep them going out of anger towards him for not choosing her to date and marry. “My mamma,” my daddy told me, “despised that Uncle Darwin picked Aunt Cyrene over her, and she couldn’t stand how much I loved my Auntie. My mamma hated me for it. When you were born your grandma came to the hospital and was upset that Aunt Cyrene got there before she did! She got to sayin’ Auntie was tryin’ to make her look bad, but what it was was your grandmother didn’t like her or your mother.”
He continued, “I’d come home from dealin’ with the business and all I would hear is my mamma and your mamma arguin’ about how to take care of you—my mamma would say your mamma was puttin’ your diaper on wrong or she wasn’t feedin’ you the right amount of food or—it was always somethin’ with my mamma. But, even though I wanted them to get along, I kinda figured with my mamma’s nasty ways and your mother’s mean attitude, they wouldn’t always see eye to eye.”
Aunt Arlene’s dislike of her own sister blew me out the water, and it wasn’t because of the dislike, but it the why that got me and because of it, I always thought she was jealous of her sister. For Aunt Cyrene however, she stopped wondering why her sister disliked her when Aunt Arlene found out how her husband’s made passes at her sister and she did nothing about it, instead she tried to make it her sister’s fault, which was her way of not pointing the finger at herself for not standing up for her baby sister. Uncle Darwin knew this which is why he got in the face of Aunt Arlene’s fourth husband at Aunt Faye’s house.
Not all families are without their spiteful members, be they’re criminal or not. There were quite a few of the Burke family and after Aunt Cyrene married Uncle Darwin most of those family members let their spitefulness show: when one of Aunt Cyrene’s brothers died, her sisters became upset that he left her all his money, so they wrote in his obituary and on his headstone, he died on Darwina and Darissa’s birthday when he passed two days beforehand.
Her sisters felt that since she married a man with money (although Uncle Darwin hadn’t moved too high in rank when this man died, so his money wasn’t what they thought it was) that she should have shared all of it with their family instead of keeping it.
But she didn’t keep it, she split it up among his children and that’s who got it, for according to my aunt “I didn’t need it. My husband and our babies and I weren’t desperate for money; what my brother left me paled to what my husband had in his pockets.”
Mrs. Cyrene Louise Burke-Alexander and her daughters didn’t want for anything, thus she did not need to be greedy as her sisters accused her of. She continues, “What I didn’t appreciate was not just the accusation about our brother’s money, I didn’t appreciate how my own sisters—my family—was always callin’ me and asking me to ask your Uncle to help them out. Pay somebody’s rent, or light bill, get somebody’s child out of jail, get somebody somewhere to live, buy them something to eat. My husband did those things and more, and my family would turn around and make accusations against me.”
Most of those accusations dealt with the husbands of Aunt Arlene, for Aunt Cyrene was a beautiful woman and very intelligent. She would receive compliments everywhere she went, she would tell me of how one of her brother-in-law’s, a husband of Aunt Arlene’s, would always make passes at her after she married Uncle Darwin. “I believe he was testin your Uncle, “ she said. I asked, “Why would he wanna do that?” while thinking he must’ve had a death wish.“Because” she continues, “your Uncle had a horrible temper and would beat the hell out of any man who he thought did something wrong to me. Knowin’ this, I didn’t tell him until after my brother-in-law had died. Once I married your Uncle, I dealt with my brother-in-law’s always makin’ passes at me, tryin’ to see what would Darwin do to them if I told him.”
My Uncle would tell me he knew these men made passes at his wife but he trusted her which is why he did nothing: “Except one time, but I didn’t lay a hand on him, though. We were at Fay’s house and I noticed another one of your Aunt Arlene’s husband’s hittin’ on Cyrene so, I waited and I asked him to go with me to a room upstairs. I didn’t touch him, I didn’t crack a smile, I said to him ‘you do that shit again, and I’ll kill you’, and walked out the room. He knew what I was talkin about because he stayed away from your aunt afterward.”
This husband of Aunt Arlene’s was married before, and his wife divorced him because he raped her sister, he would admit to sleeping with her but he always said she wasn’t forced into it. Uncle Darwin told me that, “He did that to her and got a baby, that’s why I got in his face, then he wondered why nobody in the Burke family liked him.”
Aunt Arlene knew about this and still married him, I guess she thought he wouldn’t try that with any of her sisters. This man would end up dead, but not because of my Uncle, “I was glad he died the way he did. One less fool I had to have buried alive.” Aunt Arlene wasn’t as smart as she thought because she didn’t see that all her husband’s only wanted to marry her to get to her brother-in-law’s money and his woman. The other funny thing about how Aunt Arlene acted towards the situation with Seth is that she didn’t like Madeline either, I would never know if she believed that Seth was Uncle Darwin’s son, but she liked screwing with him about it, telling him from time to time, “I ain’t like Cyrene, I wouldn’t marry a man who had an outside baby.”
That Uncle of mine would let her know, “I know you wouldn’t, you like men who smack you around.” “Not all men I’ve been with have done that,Mister Alexander.” “I know, it’s just the ones you marry.” Pissed off she said, “Well, like I said I wouldn’t have married you, knowin’ you had an outside child. Then you gon’ sit up there and deny the boy, that’s—” he interrupts her, “Look Arlene, you need to shut your mouth, whatever it is, is none of your business.” She goes on, “And that’s another thing about all this mess—have you told your girls about they half-brother??” From what I remember, Darwina and Darissa knew about Seth as their cousin, but Darwina would tell me, “I didn’t know how to take finding out that Seth could’ve been my half-brother.”
It was my father who told me about it, Darwina and Darissa would hear about it from some screwed up cousin of our family when they were twelve. “Darissa and I were at a cousin’s house for the weekend and it was Darissa who asked about Seth—I guess she figured this cousin would know since they were older. The cousin said our daddy had slept with Seth’s mamma—our Aunt Madeline, Uncle Nicky’s wife, and they had a baby and that baby was Seth. I remember Darissa looked at me and asked me why would our daddy do that cause he loves our mamma. The cousin forgot to explain that it happened before our parents met.”
When my daddy told it, I was fourteen and I had asked him about it because I never understood the stories about my Uncle, it was as if everybody loved him but couldn’t stand him because of that problem he caused—nobody other than Great-grandma Alexander pointed a finger at Aunt Madeline, and those who did only did so to go along with everyone else from time to time. What about Uncle Nicholas? “Well,” my father said, “sometimes a man has to keep things to himself. Whatever you think or know or believe, most times it’s best you keep it inside.”
My father was very much like that, he would keep certain things to himself because he didn’t wish to upset his family, he may not have shown it but we were very important to him for having us to come home to gave him a sense of stability and a peace of mind a little. My parents were a young happy couple both eighteen years old when I came into the world March 16, 1924.
It was the birth of my sister in 1928 that would finally pull my father into The Life, helping him to go from a mere country bumpkin to the man he would become, he realized that with a growing family he had no choice but to work for his Uncle. He met my mother while living with Aunt Cyrene and Uncle Darwin and although he was told no fooling around with any girls while he was there, he did so anyway, letting one of his friends talk him into it.
He dated only a few girls, with the last one being my mother. They would date for one year before marrying in 1923 with me coming along a little over a year later. My father and I would have a close relationship until I turned thirteen when he pulled away from me from always being involved in the family business of which I had yet to know about. During this time, my father was a hitman for our Uncle, which my mother knew of but wasn’t happy with but she would act like most women who are with a man in The Life: they like the money, the cars, and the clothes but not the danger that comes with the man’s job.
The mental stress of his job would show from time to time, such as when he would wake up in a cold sweat from a nightmare from having had killed a man maybe the night before or there were times he would go around the house and mumble to himself, trying to figure out how he would take his next target down. I was always afraid of my father once I found out what he did for a living, I always feared that if I made him too angry, I would end up like one of those men, and when he was around me, he was quiet and never seemed as if he would hurt anyone but I found out different.
Seeing your father kill a man is a horrifying experience, and since I never thought my father was cable of murder, to see him beat and man then put a bullet in the man’s head was unexpected. I remember he beat the hell out of this man over a personal debt the man owed to my Uncle; Uncle Darwin didn’t ask my father to beat the man much less kill him but my father felt his job was to right all wrongs done to anyone in our family by anyone, and when Uncle Darwin had found out what my father had done, he went over to his house to have a talk.
“The first thing he asked me was why. Why did I do it, I told him I did it to let people know no one messes with this family; he told me that people already know and that I was to have no involvement with the family for thirty days so I can think about what I did. I accepted his decision and did nothing family related for those thirty days, afterward, he told me I was to understand that I was not to kill any man unless he said so. In my mind, I owed it to him to take out any man who wronged him.”
This was my mother’s main problem with my father and his devotion to Uncle Darwin, I thought she disliked my Uncle, but that wasn’t true, for just as she didn’t like his calling on my father to head the family, she also didn’t like my father’s running to Uncle Darwin’s every beck and call: “I couldn’t stand it, your Uncle would call at three or four in the morning or in the middle of the night for your daddy. Telling him what he needed to do and where he needed to go.”
My mother didn’t understand The Life, she didn’t understand that in this thing; it doesn’t matter what’s going on with your wife or your children, your crime family comes first, your boss comes first, your obedience to him comes first. My father and Seth understood their jobs, for even when Seth lost his wife he still had to answer to his boss, not just his Uncle.
“His sending me out to do that hit wasn’t the best decision he could have made,” Seth would tell me this during a conversation he and I had while Lenore was out and it was just he and me at his house. “But, I don’t think he ever regretted it, I don’t think he regretted a lot of wrongful things he’s done.” He didn’t have to say it, but I knew Seth was talking about Uncle Darwin’s supposed affair with his mother and Uncle Darwin’s denial of him as his son.
When Seth was fourteen, he would find out what took place between his mother and his Uncle, yet he would never question either of them, instead, he listened to people’s version of what happened, his plotting ways to take his Uncle out wouldn’t start until he turned nineteen; thus he was thinking of ways to bump off the man he worked for, which, believe it or not, isn’t uncommon in our line of work.
His acting on his plans wouldn’t start until he turned twenty-four, it took five years for him to act because he had to learn to think like the man; he had to learn his ways, his routine; what he ate in the mornings for breakfast and what he did in the evenings when he wasn’t giving orders to kill a man or going to kill a man himself.
As Seth told me, “You learn a lot about someone if you spend enough time with them. What I knew about Uncle Darwin from being his nephew differed from what I found out from working for him because he was a different person as a boss. In public, he was soft-spoken, he never cursed or smoked around women, he was always respectful, he never started fights but he never backed down from one either. I would find this out when I accompanied him to a bar one night.”
Some loud mouth drunk got to cussing around a group of women who were having a nice evening, Uncle Darwin was standing with the man at the bar when he started with his vulgarities. I asked my Uncle what happened, “I tried to talk to him, you know, man to man like ‘hey, ain’t no need to talk like that in front of these ladies’. He thought I was trying to tell him what to do, I wasn’t. The guy didn’t like my correcting him in front a bunch of women, much less in front of strangers, so he left.”
My Uncle continues, “He comes back about an hour later with a gun, I didn’t see him walk back in the bar at first, one woman screamed ‘He got a gun!’ and as I turned around, he shot at me aiming for my head, he somehow missed and hit me in the chest.” Uncle Darwin said he fell backwards clutching his chest, and as he laid there, he could hear the woman still screaming and some man yelled for someone to get a doctor, thinking my Uncle was dead the man who shot him stood over him and aimed again for his head, but, “When I opened my eyes and stood up, the mother fucker ran out the damn bar scared shitless.” My Uncle went by ambulance to the hospital with Aunt Cyrene arriving just minutes later.
This would be the third time Uncle Darwin was almost at death’s door, the first time it happened Aunt Cyrene was at home with Aunt Marie who had come home from touring Paris to pay her baby brother a surprise visit. They had made dinner and most of the family were over at the house when “The maid answered the phone and couldn’t quite make out what was being said but she could understand when they said your Uncle was in the hospital.”
She continues, “She got to screaming for me and I grabbed the phone from her and all I remember being told was my husband was laying up in the hospital. He had been home earlier in the day but Marie was still on her way and when he left the house, I knew he wouldn’t be home for a while. Marie showed up, and she had only been at the house for an hour when they called, I hung up that phone and found her, she went with me to the hospital. Honey, I couldn’t get out of that car fast enough when we arrived.”
Aunt Cyrene ran into the hospital and to the front desk, she looked like a wild woman crying while trying to tell them who she was and who she was there for, Aunt Marie came in behind her fast and told the nurse who they were, “My sister-in-law was just crying and couldn’t stop long enough to tell them folks she was Mrs. Alexander looking for her husband Darwin Alexander. I told them that for her I then told I was his sister.”
He was in recovery about time Aunt Cyrene and Aunt Marie had arrived, “I was sleep and could hear your aunt crying and I heard my sister tell her it was going be all right, I thought I was dreaming when I looked up and seen those two. Then I looked over and seen Marty sitting in a chair in the corner, he looked at me and smiled, I looked at Cyrene and told her to come over and I said ‘you stop all that cryin’, I’m fine just got a little bump on the back of my head, that’s all.”
Uncle Darwin got up out the bed, he knew he had to so Aunt Cyrene would be calm; he told Mister Blythe to help him get dressed, and he told his sister to go get the doctor. “That man walked in to see me up and ready to go, he said ‘Mister Alexander, sir, you can’t go home, you had major surgery. I can’t release you.’ I called Marty over and said ‘Mister Blythe, show the good doctor our kind of release papers.’ Martin pulled out a big roll of cash and pulled off enough to get the good doc to discharge me.”
Mister Alexander went home to recover, with his sister and his wife nursing him back to good health. Once back on his feet, his next mission was to find the fool who shot him and finding them wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be and when he found them, he had more than a bullet to the head for them.
Mister Blythe told me, “I knew your Uncle had left his house and took four of our guys with him. He had the shooter holed up in an abandoned garage; first, he had the guys beat the man to a pulp, then he took a bat and beat him even more. About time I got there the guy was on the ground with your Uncle on him with a knife in his hands and he landed the blade right in the man’s throat.”
My Uncle could be gruesome in his execution style, his thing of stabbing men in the throat happened twice. Great-grandma Alexander was looking after the girls for Aunt Cyrene as she ran errands and while Uncle Darwin was out of town, as she was on the phone in the kitchen a van pulled up while the girls played outside in the front yard, two men jumped out of the back and grabbed Darissa first.
Darwina remembered, “I was looking down the street as this van got closer to grandma’s house, soon it stopped in front and the back doors flew open and the men jumped out, the first put his hand over Darissa’s mouth and snatched her up while the other one did me the same way. We both fought to get free, but it didn’t work, I remember we got taken to an abandoned building then downstairs to a trashy room where a man was sitting in a chair watching as the men put us down. I looked around, lookin’ at the men’s faces, Darissa sat next to me cryin’ for our daddy.” They sat in that room, not understanding they were being held captive, for almost two days.
“I thought we were never going home,” Darwina told me one night, “I got to wantin’ daddy, too, but I didn’t cry like my sister. When that man in the chair got up to go outside, I told Darissa she needed to stop cryin’ or we might not be goin’ home and we might never see daddy or mamma again. She stopped, and the man came back in, he sat down and glanced at me and my sister, he didn’t talk to us, and we didn’t talk to him and when Darissa fell asleep, I stayed awake because I didn’t trust him.”
Even back when I and my cousins were growing up there were men who were perverts, who preyed on young girls and boys. “The man fell asleep, but I didn’t, I figured me and my sister would be goin’ home.” She was right, she would see a man climb into the window of the room, she recognized it was her daddy and he gestured for her to be quiet, cover her ears and turn her head towards the wall.
As soon as she did, her daddy grabbed the man’s head and snapped his neck, the man slumped down in the chair as two of her father’s men climbed into the room through the window and picked up her and her sister and lowered them to two other men who would carry them to their father’s car. “My daddy got a phone call from one of his men who got a call from my mama who got a call from grandma sayin’ she couldn’t find us. We were playin’ outside in the front yard and she came to check on us to find us not out there.”
His daughter’s kidnapping went beyond enraging him, he could handle if somebody came after him, but his wife and children were off limits. He didn’t send men to take care of the men who did it, instead; he took himself, Mister Blythe, and the other men to do the job. Once the girls were safe in the car, they could hear gunshots going off, the man driving their father’s car tried to drive off fast enough to the take the girls home so they wouldn’t see or hear anything.
Uncle Darwin would come home in the early morning hours, his daughter’s lay sleep in their beds while his wife was in the kitchen making breakfast. He went into his daughter’s room and sat in a chair in a corner and watched them, he would tell me later, “That was the most scared I had ever been, the thought of losing my girls put fear in me.” The last man Uncle Darwin was to kill he waited to take out, the man wasn’t in or near the abandoned building when the men to rescue the girls came. He had the man kidnapped but not beaten, instead, he had the man in a chair bound up and gagged, in a small dirty room with a glowing light above his head.
Uncle Darwin walked in slow, “I had a tire iron in my hand and looked him in his eyes, I could see the fear, and feel it and smell it; when you can tell that a man is afraid of you, it makes you feel powerful. I took the tire iron and beat him in his head, then after he fell over while in the chair I got to beating him bad, I tried to break every bone in his body.”
My Uncle would tell me he took a knife he had on him and drove it through the man’s throat, watching the guy choke to death on his own blood. “I sat there on the floor leaning my back up against the wall, I whistled for the boys to come in and dispose of his body, I got up, walked out and got in my car and drove home.” He drove thinking about his girls and his wife, what they meant to him.
His ability to kill a man was because of how hard he loved his family, but according to Darwina “We knew daddy loved us but, he made differences in me and Darissa. He made me take her everywhere with me, which I hated, I want to go out with my friends by myself and Darissa had to go along because our father wanted us to have a bond as sisters. We would have that but it was hard because of what daddy did for a living, but I guess that was his reason for forcing us to have that sister relationship, he knew, one day we would only have each other.”
Being the child of a mobster isn’t easy, in my father’s house there was a separate set of rules aside from the house rules once I came into The Life. Our conversation as son and father changed, my father would talk to me more like a man than a boy, even the way he would say my name changed once I came in, he spoke to me with more respect than before. His quietness around me was natural and when we had conversations, they would be something like, “Mr. Wilkes,” he would address me, “don’t underestimate that guy, he’s not as legitimate as he seems.”
My response would be, “Well, Sir, I agree with you. I think the man is only honest on some things, but not all.” “What you mean?”, he would ask. I would explain, “His eyes are always shifty like he’s hiding something on one end but he wants to be honest with you on the other. Like when you talked to him about that business offer he made, when you pointed out one problem with it, his eyes shifted.” Conversations like that went on between us as far as being in The Life, yet as father and son, I was “Mason,” and he was “daddy.”
He never addressed me as “Mr. Wilkes” in front of my mother, whenever he wanted me for a sit-down and my mother was around, he would call the house and say he needed me to help him to fix his car or mow the lawn or say he wanted to spend time with me, but our fishing trips were talks about the family business and the mowing of the lawn would be he and I sitting with two of his men talking about how to deal with a debtor or if I had to take someone out.
The only reason he talked that day about me not bumping men off was because he knew our discussions as father and son were no longer such but they were becoming family related, for although I wasn’t allowed to kill, he and I still had such talks until I left. I would make it a point though to keep in touch with Ralphie while I worked for Seth, I made it a habit walking to the store and call him to see how things were back home.
I checked on my father and my sister; I knew my mother was fine because a cousin on her side also lived in South Carolina but this cousin didn’t relate to the Alexander side for whatever reason, so I always got word from them from time to time about my mother. Ralphie would also tell me how things were going between him and his old man, “My father asked about you the other day,” he told me during one conversation, “I told him you were okay, just busy taking care of things for your dad.” He never told his father where I was, although he trusted his father, he still didn’t want it to get back to Seth that I was keeping contact with family back home.
I would call him twice out of the week, and every time he would ask “How are things goin’ down there?” “It’s okay, I’m still keepin’ an eye on him, though. He doesn’t talk about Walter, but he’ll talk about other things, and so far he ain’t tried nothin’ new, but still.” “Has he asked about anybody in your family?” “No,” I said. “He hasn’t caught onto my phone calls. But I make it a point not to come to call until a certain time, most of the people who come in and out mind they own business.”
Ralphie would say in that strong German accent of his, “Yeah, but you still gotta watch it, because you never know who he got watchin’ you, Wilkes.” “I know, I know.” I would say, and then we’d hang up a moment later, I always made it a point to go to the store before heading back to Seth’s house, to pay the store owner to not say what specific time I had come into his store.
I would walk in and hand him some money, and go into a small room in the back that served as his office and make my call, when I finished I would walk out and hand him a little more dough to cover whatever I took off his shelves, even if the money wasn’t enough, he didn’t care because he knew he would get more with every call I came in to make.
When I would return, Seth would say, “Did you get everything you needed or wanted?” I would always say, “Yeah they had everything.” and then go upstairs to my room or, if he wanted to talk, go into the living room where he would read the paper. He never asked me about anyone in our family and he never had his friends come over, Lenore was always around though and was always ready to strike up a conversation.
“Seth is so quiet, isn’t he?” she commented one evening while she and I washed and dried the dishes, “Yeah, he is,” I replied. She said, “I see why you told me men in your family aren’t big talkers, that’s something I am, I’m a chatter box. I notice you talk little too, Mason.” “Well, I rarely have a lot to say.” She asked me, “So, you don’t have a girl back home or found anyone you like since you’ve been here??” “No, ma’am. I ain’t got a girl and I haven’t been lookin’ for one since I’ve been here, Seth, he keeps me busy you know.”
She chuckles, “I’ve noticed.” Then she looks over at me and says with a smile, “Why don’t I introduce you to my friend’s niece. You might like her.” I replied, “I don’t know Lenore, I don’t think I’d have time for a girl, I mean, Seth got me doin’ a lot around the house, and outside of it, too.”
She took it upon herself to talk to Seth about me not having so much to do, that led to him putting her in her place after I had finished my dinner one night and excused myself from the table: “What have I told you about meddling in my family business, Lenore??”
She said, “I don’t think I was meddling, besides, he’s a young man, he need a girlfriend. All you have him do is things around this house, and I’ve noticed you send him out at odd hours during the night sometimes when I’m here and—”
He stops her, “First off, what I have him do is none of your business, second, if I think he needs a girl, he’ll have one and he doesn’t need you havin’ him meet any of your friends’ daughters or nieces or anybody, understood??” “Seth, I meant no harm, it’s just that I see nothing wrong with him at least being introduced to a young girl.” “I said no, Lenore.” I would meet the young lady anyway Lenore was talking about when the girl and her mother came for dinner one weekend, her name was Paulette Brown. She sat next to me, with a smile on her face quite happy to meet a young man like myself, however, I disappointed her because I wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
When dinner was over, I went outside on the back porch and sat, she would follow me and sit in the chair next to me. “What’s wrong with you, Mason? You don’t like girls?” I chuckled, “That’s not it, Paulette. I like girls, but I don’t have time for one. I’m always busy, my cousin always got me doing something. Me having a girl won’t happen for me. I hope you understand.” She looked up towards the backwoods and said, “I understand Mason, but I like you a lot and I want to get to know you.”
I would date Paulette for about six months because I didn’t have time for her, Seth would send me to do four or five hits at a time, which meant little time for her or any other girl. When I broke up with her; I told her it was no fault of hers and that it was just that I was a busy guy. She understood and moved on, and I was glad for that for Ralphie wasn’t having such luck with a young lady he had just broken up with. At first, the girl was just erratic, but then things got worse: one day while Ralphie was driving home from seeing his grandmother, someone started shooting at him from across the street, although he understood our line of work, he didn’t understand why he was being shot at.
We would find out later that the girl he broke up with told her father, who turned out to be a low-level boss who didn’t like guys playing with his daughter’s emotions—or with her body. This girl had lied on Ralphie, saying he slept with her then dumped her and once he found out who Ralphie’s dad was, he then sent his man to hit Ralph. The girl told her father that after two weeks of dating, Ralphie promised to marry her if they slept together but there was only one problem with that—Ralphie had never had sex in his life.
And believe it or not he wasn’t trying to have it now, his work for his father was too important to him to screw. Now the girl who lied on him?? She was a different story altogether; she had a reputation from sleeping with any guy who showed her the least bit of attention, so, when she met and dated Ralphie, she saw him as a good prospect for getting into bed, and knowing who his father was only made Ralph look even better to her.
It was here that I did something I never thought I would: kill a female. When Mister Atchenberg heard from his son what had happened and why, it was Mister Atchenberg who asked me by way of Ralphie to take the girl out. “But, what about her father?” I asked Ralph during one of our weekly conversations. “Well,” Ralph begins, “he must go too, won’t he?? But you don’t worry about that, just get rid of the girl.”
I didn’t have to leave South Carolina to do it for she was coming there to visit a friend of hers. I was told by Ralphie the name of the friend and where they lived but, of course, I couldn’t do anything to the girl while the friend was around so, I devised a plan to get the girl alone. I found out she liked coming to the same store I would go to for my phone calls to Ralphie; I waited until she showed up and walked in and sat down at a booth across from her and gave her a look she fell for and believed it was me showing interest in her.
She walked over and sat down and we talked, about two days later we were on a date walking over the Lovers Lane bridge, it was midnight while she and I was on the bridge holding each other as I kissed on her neck and as she turned around so I could caress her, hold her close from behind, I waited awhile and pushed her over the edge.
I waited a minute and made sure she hit the water, watching her drown. I made sure there were no witnesses, once I could tell she wasn’t coming back up I walked to my car, I called the next morning and let him know he wouldn’t see her again, now all we had to worry about was the boss, but Mister Atchenberg took care of him with a bullet to the back of the head. Killing a man without hesitation was one thing I admired about Mister Atchenberg, and per his son, his father got into The Life by succeeding his own father, which he didn’t want to do.
I understood the man, coming to know what it would be like to not be able to live your life the way you want, working for my Uncle would be something I would come to regret most of mine. My sister was a great girl, when she was born I would help my mamma with her whenever I could, I even helped to teach her how to walk; even though one time she fell down the stairs because she had wondered towards them without my looking.
Once she got to be eight years old, she and I hung out quite a bit until I started having friends to go out with and she would be stuck at home with mamma and sometimes daddy because he was always dealing with the family business by this time. I remember being around my sister as some of the happiest moments of my life and never let anyone mess with her, I remember when she had a girl on our block try to bully her and I stood up for my sister.
I told the girl to leave my sister alone or I’d kick her butt, ha! She ran home and told her father who told her two brothers to go to my house and kick my butt, well, it ended in me coming outside and taking a beating for my little sister, which caused my mother to call on two of her nephews who were about Annabel’s age who came from Chicago. The beat down the two gave caused their sister to leave my sister alone, which was a good thing because it was one of the first times I didn’t have to tell my father, but he did find out when it was over, I remember being glad he didn’t tell Uncle Darwin because he would have called some other family members.
I would have eight years with my sister until 1944. One day while Annabel was walking home from school with one of her friends she would be offered a ride home by one of my father’s former men, knowing the man, Annabel got in the car, what she didn’t know was this man didn’t work for my father anymore.
Seth found out three months earlier that this guy was kicked out the family for selling drugs, which wasn’t allowed in the family. Seth would meet with the guy in secret and arranged for the man to pick Annabel up as she walked home from school, the only problem that would have posed was if she was walking with some of her friends meaning, that to take Annabel the man would have to take whoever she was with too. So, the man came up with a lie that my sister believed that our mother had sent him to pick her up because something had happened to our father.
The schoolmate Annabel was with was told by my sister that they couldn’t go and that she would see Annabel the next day in school, the young lady my sister was walking with went off to meet up with some other kids from their school.
My mother called our father when my sister didn’t come home from school at her usual time, at first my father told my mother not to worry and just wait a little while longer and he was sure she’d show up. When Annabel didn’t show an hour later, my mother called our father again, this time daddy sent some of his men to look for her. No sign of my sister anywhere, she wasn’t at any of her friends’ houses nor was she at the library nor was she at any of her usual hangouts.
Finally, the young lady who Annabel was walking home with was paid a visit by my parents, at first my father was going to have one of his men tag along but realized he didn’t want to scare the young girl. Her parents and mine sat in the kitchen while my mother explained that Annabel hadn’t come home yet.
The young girl was scared to tell how my sister had gotten into a car with a man who told my sister something was wrong with her father and that he was sent by our mother to pick her up. My father would tell me later, “Your mamma gave me a look and got to saying if anything happens to her baby…I had to stop her in front of these people so they wouldn’t think anything crazy, you know.”
Of course, I understood him so I nodded, he continues, “The young girl gave a description of the man who picked Annabel up, and I knew right off who it was, and I knew he had previously worked for me. I didn’t need to be told what I already knew—Seth was behind it, the whole damn thing.” My sister’s disappearance would not only cause heartbreak for my mother, a lifetime of torment for my father, and constant regret for me but it would cause the worse war my great Uncle’s family would ever see.
I’ve always believed that Seth’s downfall began with the death of his wife. He never had time to grieve her because he was always busy taking orders, and when he was sent to take out that man who owed the family money, he wasn’t completely himself, yet that didn’t matter to Uncle Darwin. All he knew was that he wanted the man dead, so on September 28, 1924, Seth would end up being labeled a child killer by shooting into that group of kids playing outside and one dying. When he found out about the boy’s death, Seth was devastated, “Nobody in their right mind plans on killing a child, you know.”
As we have another one of our talks he says to me, “That kid was innocent, you know?? Just an innocent bystander who got caught in the crossfire of some bullshit.” I figured out later on that that was Seth’s way of saying that our Uncle didn’t need that money he had him chase that man for, but, again, in our line of work, obeying your boss comes first and Seth knew that.
Honestly, I don’t believe Uncle Darwin cared about what Seth was dealing with as far as him losing his wife either, I’ve always thought that at times my Uncle could be a heartless man when it came down to the dollar, for throughout the years, he developed a love for money to where sometimes it didn’t matter how much you owed him, he wanted what was his.
His sending Seth away afterward was business as well because Uncle Darwin paid out so much money to keep Seth alive as well as out of jail, so Seth became an expense that my Uncle didn’t want to keep around; when it would come down to the matter of the dead boy Uncle Darwin would say “I don’t like payin’ for somebody else’s mistake.” Yet what he failed to realize is that Seth didn’t send himself to do that hit and he didn’t offer to do it, so who’s fault is it.
Now when my father was a hitman for our Uncle, he told me he never had such problems and he would also tell me “When Uncle Darwin sent Seth away like that, that was the only time I thought my Uncle was wrong for what he did. We both took orders from him, an’ I’m not sayin’ that neither of us shouldn’t have used better judgment on some things but, Uncle Darwin knew Seth was hurtin’—he had just lost his wife. Doris hadn’t been dead a good two weeks before Seth was sent to kill that guy, and because of that botched hit, I ended up replacing Seth.”
I asked him about his living with Aunt Cyrene and our Uncle, he says, “Yeah I did live with them but it all wasn’t about my mamma and daddy fightin’ all the time or my daddy being a drunk. That was really Uncle Darwin’s way of makin’ it look good to bring me in, he had to have a reason behind it.” It was also his way of justifying for himself doing what he did to Seth, see, in our line of work, you just don’t bring a guy in, it doesn’t matter if he’s related to you, you still must have a legit reason to have this guy apart of your operations.
Since everyone in our family knew what my father put up with at home, it was a good cover but down the line, it would have its repercussions because Seth knew why my father was with Aunt Cyrene and Uncle Darwin. “I wasn’t stupid, I already knew Uncle Darwin would replace me when that little boy died, it just shocked me that he kicked me out like he did.” All the other families knew of Seth’s being banned as well, this meant the underworld turned its back on him because nobody wanted a child killer in their ranks, “Nobody in our business wanted me after that. It’s true that Uncle Darwin sent me down here to do another hit, but another reason I didn’t come back was I wasn’t wanted, thanks to his bullshit I got labelled a child murderer. And I was good at my job, too.”
That was true when Seth worked for my Uncle, he was one of the top hitmen in the business, he would be called upon (as I would be as well as my father would) to take guys out. He kept notes on people in his head, and he never wrote anything down, his mind worked like a Rolodex; my father, on the other hand, was the opposite, he was good at keeping things in various places to where you couldn’t find them: while on his deathbed in the hospital, my father had me go to his house he instructed me to go into his bedroom closet and climb up on a small ladder and reach up to the ceiling and move the panel out the way, when I did so, I found a metal lock box which contained names and addresses of various targets, policemen, politicians, judges, prison guards—you name it, it was on this list; he even had a list of potential targets as well, people he figured he would have to take out if they didn’t cooperate.
His first year in South Carolina was spent waiting to see when he was going to be called back to the family; he realized after six months he wasn’t going to be called so he started putting together his own men. Everything he had learned from Uncle Darwin he used to run his family, which would grow to only between two to three hundred men throughout the years, unfortunately since that botched hit happened, no one wanted to work with Seth because of his being labelled a child killer.
The one thing he wanted more than anything was to run our Uncle’s family but it wouldn’t happen and he hated it and despised my father for it, as Seth told me later, “When the kid died from my hit, I knew Uncle Darwin would replace me because I pretty much cost him too much money. Payin’ to keep me out of jail much less the electric chair was a big expense and we’re not talkin’ lesser amounts of cash, either. My screw up became his debt and he didn’t like it, so his dismissing me was expected because no boss likes when a man causes him to lose money, you know. Bein’ kicked out the way I was I didn’t expect, I sat around for months waiting for him to call me back.”
Being replaced by my father was the hardest part for Seth to take, he always figured our Uncle would choose his own blood to head his family, not my father, somebody who was related by marriage; but Uncle Darwin picked my father over Seth because, “Seth didn’t show promise, he showed that he could kill, alright fine, but he didn’t show he could lead.” When you’re in The Life, the jobs you’re given are based on what you are good at, if you’re good at making money, then you become an earner, if you’re good with your fist or with a tool, then you become an enforcer, and so on.
Your moving up in rank also depends on what you show, if your boss can tell you’ve paid attention and you’ve learned certain things, then you may be given more responsibility; Seth figured that since he was able to kill, he automatically would be the head of the family, not so. And believe it or not, being related doesn’t necessarily get you the position either, since Seth thought that too, for the best thing being the relative of a mafia don can get you is not deceased since being able to lead ain’t worth it if you’re not alive to do it.
A few men in my family and Ralphie’s would learn that lesson for many of them had plans—just like Seth, to bump off their bosses, wanting to be in charge or figured they could lead better than the men they followed for it’s not always about money when a member of a family feels the urge to kill the top man.
Most of the time it’s jealousy, some guys take a step back and look at the man in charge and think what does this guy got that I don’t, but my older cousin was different because he knew what he had because he had been taught it by our Uncle so he figured why wouldn’t his Uncle make him his successor, for as Seth would say to me from time to time, “I was around him the most I was the one who learned from him first, and I was the one who took bullets for him first, I did work for him first, I was the one who made him money first. If it wasn’t for me and a couple of other guys, those secret millions that man is sittin’ on, he wouldn’t have.”
This family problem wasn’t just about violating someone’s mother, this guy was pissed that what was supposed to be rightfully his was taken from him and this man’s anger didn’t subside throughout the years either, hell, about time I got around to living with Seth there were times he scared the shit out of me. He would at times stare at me, not saying a word, looking at me as if he wanted to do something to me; I figured that since I looked so much like my father I reminded him of what he didn’t have which was the power and respect he craved as being a man in The Life; although I sometimes wondered if Uncle Darwin sent Seth to do that hit which killed that kid on purpose for sometimes in our line of work a boss will do that if he thinks you’re getting too big or if he thinks your plotting against him.
My own father didn’t trust everyone, including me, one of the reasons he made me stop doing those hits when I lived at home was for his own protection, if those hits were traced back to me then they would have eventually led to my father which would have led to my Uncle which would have led to my not being alive to talk to you. My father didn’t want to have to kill me or have me killed so he figured the best thing do was to have me stop while I was ahead, since the police couldn’t figure out who killed the targets and when I was told to stop I was able to understand Seth a little better for some guys can’t take being brought into The Life and then being kicked out especially by their own blood.
I understood though why I was being told to stop I just didn’t like it and I questioned my father, “Why I gotta stop? You the one got me doin’ it an’ now you sayin’ I can’t do it anymore. Why not?” “Cause, it ain’t good for the family anymore. People startin’ to talk.” I knew it was my mother, I knew she was the reason I had to stop and for a minute, I wanted to take my own mother out sometimes I would think she may have thought that and that’s why she made me leave.
I never thought about killing my father or my Uncle, but I did at times think of killing my mother’s new husband and it wasn’t because he was with my mother it was because, to me, he helped to stop the money I was getting from taking guys out. What stopped me all the time was Annabel, I knew it wouldn’t have been right to leave her without a mother so I took being kicked out, I missed Anna when I lived with Seth and I was glad he didn’t ask about the family while I was there. His not talking about Walter didn’t shock me either because I knew that was out of guilt but it did shock me that he let me go and tell Walter’s mother about his death and that he let me go to the funeral.
I remember it was pouring down raining that day, Aunt Cyrene and the girls as well as Mister Blythe, they all sat in the pew behind Walter’s mother, who sat in the front with Walter’s father. My father wasn’t there for whatever reason but my sister was with our Uncle and Aunt while I sat in the back, in the pews up against the wall hoping not to be spotted by anyone. It didn’t work: Jacob Dalton Riley would recognize me five minutes into the service, about fifteen minutes later he would quietly get up and head to the door while looking over at me and nodding his head for me to go with him.
I get up and follow him a few feet as he walks down the street, when he gets almost two blocks away from the church, I call him and he stops once I catch up, he and I continue to walk up the street another block to a restaurant. We sit at a corner table and he gives me a look as a waitress brings him a cup of coffee, he doesn’t speak as he pours sugar and cream into it the waitress then takes our orders.
I watch him stir his coffee while he still hasn’t said anything finally he looks up at me and smiles, puts his spoon down and asks, “How have things being going, Mason?” As the waitress serves us our food I tell him, “Fine. Everything is fine.” I always had liked Jacob and his brother, our Uncle would tease and say about them that those two were Chicago boys and not Capone’s men yet their time in Capone’s gang would prove beneficial to my Uncle and of course, to the brothers themselves for Jacob already had the gift of persuasion; this guy could talk anybody out of anything—your house, your car, he could get your woman if he wanted her!
He didn’t care if you underestimated him because he always had a trick up his sleeve for you, he was also another one who didn’t think twice about killing you if you crossed him and he would make his bones while working for Capone, thanks to his brother taking out the wrong man by accident: “You know Mason, you remind me a lot of myself when I first started out,” he says this as we eat and continues, “I remember how Johnny and I were sent by Capone to take out this small group of men right, and we’re hidin’ out in this empty apartment in this building across the street, it’s rainin’ hard, comin’ down in buckets. Johnny could barely see and as he aims and fires…we look up to see he done killed the wrong guy! I panic, I got scared, I hide on the other side of the window and I told my brother ‘I ain’tgonna die cause you killed the wrong person’, I got some balls and snatched the gun from him and killed the rest of those punks myself. Shocked—and I believe a little scared—my brother tells Capone I took out those guys and even told the truth that he killed the wrong man. Appreciating Johnny’s honesty,” Jacob chuckles, “Capone let him live.”
I asked, “What Mr. Capone do after that?” “He made me the backup to my brother as far as taking men out. I know people think that my brother and I were the best hitmen Capone had, truth is, we weren’t there was guys in the outfit better than us but, Capone liked us and kept us both around.” Still feeding my face I ask, “How did y’all get in with Mr. Capone?” “My brother and I were seventeen when our daddy was killed by some white store owners who didn’t like that our daddy’s store was getting the same amount of business, this was back in 1926.” I said with a smile, “I was a two year old back then.”
“Yeah,” he says and continues, “Our mamma died of a heart attack soon after because she couldn’t take losin’ our daddy and Johnny had secretly started hangin’ out with the criminals in our neighborhood, one of the guys Johnny got to know was an’ associate of a small-time family and the guy started having Johnny do things for him. One of those things was kill somebody, now Johnny never held a gun before so the guy had to teach my brother how to shoot.”
This would happen down in the basement of the guy’s house when the brothers were seventeen, Jacob continued on, “Once my brother learned how to shoot, his next idea was to bring me in after our mother passed but, Johnny didn’t know the rules he didn’t know he couldn’t just bring me in, he had to work his way up in rank first.” It would take Johnny a year to make it, and that’s when he decided to see about having his brother join the family he was a part of, this was bold on Johnny’s part and would prove somewhat difficult to pull off for a few reasons.
“One, we weren’t Italian and two, Johnny still wasn’t high up yet to ask such a thing so he figured he’d get another high-ranking man to vouch for him and he would in turn vouch for me. He told the guy I was his kid brother because Johnny was born five minutes before me, nobody knew we were twins at first because we don’t look alike, just born on the same day.” The associate Johnny was dealing with spoke to the soldier who was over him and he talked with his Capo who talked with the second in command who talked with the boss about Johnny and his brother, while Johnny waited for an answer.
“I had no idea any of this was goin’ on,” Jacob continues, “My brother was dealin’ with these cats while I was at home helpin’ our mamma out until she died. After that, he tells me what was goin’ on and that he and I were gonna work for this man, so, the day after our mother’s funeral a man whose last name was Ostrowski shows up at our house lookin’ for Johnny. Ostrowski, Johnny and I are sitting in our kitchen talkin’, Ostrowski says to me ‘Jacob, my boss says he has no problem with making you a part of what we do, but he has to be sure this is what you want and of what you can do.’ I sit and think about it for a minute, then I ask my brother, ‘John, what is this?’ he says, ‘My friend is asking do you want to be a part of something that can make you and me some real money, Jake. Think about somethin’—our mamma and daddy are dead, we don’t have any money to live on, and the money we had we used it to bury mamma. We can’t live in this house with no money.’ I said, ‘We can always ask one of our Uncles or Aunts—’ he stops me, ‘No we can’t. We can do this, we can take care of ourselves.’
I look at Ostrowski and say, ‘Alright, I’m in. What do I gotta do?’ Johnny was thrilled I jumped at the chance to be involved, and after the man leaves, Johnny takes me to the basement and teaches me how to shoot a gun.”
This started the Riley Brothers journey to Capone; their first boss was some low-level mobster and the brothers were sent to take out small-time gangsters whom the guy had problems with. Jacob and his brother grew to be those top-notch men they were around and would soon aspire to be, but what surprised me was that Jacob had crossed paths with Seth before.
“I had met Seth around the time that hit that got him labelled happened, I was actually in the area when it happened and I was friends with the parents of the little boy that died, but I didn’t know it was Seth who accidentally killed the boy. I met him before your Uncle had sent him to do that second hit, my brother and I were runnin’ a night spot in Harlem and our boss wanted it checked on so he sent me, he had been told about some problems with the money bein correct at the end of the month. I walked in and I immediately saw Seth sitting in a corner booth with a young lady laughin’ about something or other.”
Jacob found out that what Seth though was so funny was how he was chasing down a guy and had the balls to shoot at him in front of people, he hadn’t found out yet one of the kids had died. “I go in and see him, but go to talk to the guy handling the books for the club. Afterwards, I leave.” The next day Jacob hears on the radio that a little boy had died from his injuries as the result of being a shot by accident, he then finds out the name of the boy and goes to visit his parents. “I wanted to see if they needed anything and to let them know I was willing to help if possible. They needed help with the boy’s funeral and all that, so I paid for it.”
Sometime later Jacob would find out who the shooter was and although he was saddened by the child’s death, he couldn’t do anything about it “Revenge was outta the question, cause knowin’ me, I would have hunted the man down and took him out for it. But, as I know you know, you can’t put a price on somebody’s head without the top man’s permission.”
Jacob would have to let it go, but the next time he saw Seth he let him know that he knew what Seth had done; this would explain for me part of why Seth feared Jacob so much. “Seth never knew much about me or my brother,” according to Jacob, “All he has ever known is where we are from and what we do for Mister Alexander but he never knew where either brother was coming from.
“He doesn’t know our angles. He can’t read us, especially me, he’s tried I can tell but, he doesn’t know. I think that kinda upsets him.” I agreed with that because Seth never liked anyone he knew little about, and he tried his best to find something on Jacob that he could hold over his head yet he always came up empty because Jacob made sure he followed the rules. “I learned to never take things into my own hands, I obeyed my boss, and followed orders completely.”
He made sure he didn’t screw up like Seth to where he cost anybody any money, if anything, he and his brother brought in more money for any man they worked for, it would be one of the reasons Uncle Darwin made them his men but that wasn’t the case for Capone. “Big Al let us work for him because he knew we did an excellent job. Once you start to have no feelings towards killing a man, it becomes easier to do, that’s how it was with me. Once my brother taught me how to shoot a gun, I became more comfortable with the idea of taking a man’s life. What did it for me was when Johnny and I were sent to take a guy out and my brother killed the wrong man and I took that gun from him and told him I wasn’t gonna die cause he thought he knew who he was aimin’ at and I was steady tellin’ him he was off.”
Johnny Walker Reily, Jacob’s brother, never listened to his ‘kid’ brother, let him tell it, Jacob knew nothing and Johnny seemed smarter and tougher than his twin. Once he got in with that small-time mob family, “Johnny really got to thinkin’ he was Mister Tough Guy then, and his having a gun made his attitude worse. That’s how he shot the wrong man, thinkin’ he knew everything almost led to his and my death; no head man likes when you kill the wrong man, that only brings more trouble.”
I asked, “So, I guess Seth don’t like you because of what you know about him?” Jacob chuckles and says, “With Seth, it’s not a question of likin’ me, it’s that I stand in his way.” I look at him, puzzled. “I stand in his way of the family, and so do you. So, my boy, I’d watch myself around him if I was you.” Even though I figured right then he knew I was with Seth, I still trusted Jacob, and he never told how he found out, and he never told my father.
After the funeral, I went back to Seth’s house when I arrived he was downstairs in the living room, as usual, reading the paper and listening to the radio, he startled me when he spoke, “How was it?” I walked into the living room and sat down in a chair across from him while he sat in a chair in front of the fireplace, not looking at me but reading the paper, as we talked. “It was nice, a real nice service for Walt.” “How’s everybody?” “They okay.”
His asking about the family shocked me I for had lived with Seth for almost a year by this time, but I knew what he wanted to know about: my father and Uncle Darwin, and I also knew to keep my answer short. He didn’t press me for more info, at least not directly, he instead got to telling me a story of what happened one time when he and my daddy were young boys, “Wow Mason,” he chuckles “Every time I look at you I see how you look like your daddy, you know when he and I was little boys, we hung out together a lot. Did he ever tell you that?” “Naw, he always told me about what it was like when he was a young boy and the friends he had.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that nobody in the family ever mentioned him, for I didn’t find out about Seth until I turned eleven years old and even then all I heard was how he was the cousin who left the family and nobody knew where he went. He was the disappearing one, he would come and go most of the time without anyone knowing, Seth was for me kind of how Uncle Darwin was for my father—a figment of the imagination, someone you hear about but don’t truly know if they exist.
He continues, “Your daddy and me when we were kids, we did almost everything together, but as we got older we separated. He started to get his own friends and I started to get mine. It started when he was thirteen and I was fourteen and as time went on, he didn’t want to be around me.” I never thought that was the case I think that’s how Seth took it when my daddy went his own way as they were growing up, and the way my Uncle treated him didn’t make it any better and I always figured that’s why Seth, deep down, hated him like he did—although he would never admit it.
Jacob would get around to telling me about how he and his brother ended up being a part of Capone’s outfit, just as my father would tell me, “Jacob and I got along from jump, as to where his brother and I, we were alright with each other. Johnny never talked with the family a lot and he wasn’t as much a part of it as his brother, I think that was because Uncle Darwin didn’t want him so much as a member of the family for he seen him too much like a son, the father-role is one my Uncle would be not just for me to an extent but also for my father, Seth, and the Reily brothers. He would be this for any young man brought into the family, “I guess I felt obligated to do so, and since all I had was two girls, you boys were the sons I never had.”
It’s safe to say that some of him rubbed off on each of us, except for Johnny Walker Reily, as to where his brother called my Uncle ‘boss’ all the time Johnny called Uncle Darwin ‘Mister Alexander’, even after Jacob would marry Darwina in 1931 when the girls turned twenty years old and he and his brother were twenty-three, he still addressed my Uncle as ‘Mister’. “My brother thought it was disrespectful to call pops anything else.” Jacob would tell me.
He and Darwina had been married for ten years by this time and had a baby girl whom they named Ruthie-ann, after her birth Darwina became scared something might happen to her precious baby because of what had happened to my sister and because she always believed Seth was behind the kidnapping of her and her sister when they were ten years old. “Certain things started happenin’ in the family that wasn’t happenin’ before, startin’ with me and Darissabein’ kidnapped. People got to gettin’ killed for no reason and daddy never seemed to have an explanation for it when I or my sister would ask him what happened or what was goin’ on and she and I were askin’ outta fear. Our mamma was scared like how your mamma was that somethin’ would happen to us and when it did, she let daddy have it. My mamma yelled at daddy in a way we never heard before.”
She also said words she had never said to him before! “Oh yes I did!” she would tell me, “I think for the first time in our marriage I called your Uncle every name in the book but a child of God. I laugh about it now, but honey I wasn’t laughin’ then and neither was he! I told him he betta get my babies back to this house! I wasn’t stupid now, I knew my husband did wrongful things but I also knew to not speak on them. But my babies? Your Uncle knew he knew.”
Yeah, he knew, just like he knew about my sister and what happened and why, Annabel’s death was a blow to my father it killed a part of him and hurt my mother…and me?? I remember seeing my sisters body, the men who raped, beaten and killed her had dumped her in the woods where she was found by a man walking his dog. The man ran and called the police who identified my sister but didn’t say anything to the gathering crowd, with me being in the crowd, I had been walking down the street and seen the people and pushed my way a little through and seen my dead sister.
I feared someone would recognize me so I quickly turned away and continued walking down the street until I got to an alley and went into it. I stopped to catch my breath because I couldn’t believe what I had just seen, my sister was gone and not only did I know why, I also knew who.
At first I felt like I was losing my mind I got to thinking about how I lived with the man who ordered the death of my sister and what I wanted to go back to his house and do to him, then I thought of my parents realizing that killing Seth would do nothing but cause a war.
I was caught in the middle of hell, of one man’s private yet open war I watched as he methodically, slowly, and viciously unleashed his fury on us all. My mother would never forgive my father nor our Uncle for she would realize the fear that all the mother’s in our family had: losing their child to not the hands of white men in robes or blood hounds or uniformed cops for to these women, what they feared losing their child to was far worse. And the man who could stop it?? Did nothing.
He stood by and watched as his own children were kidnapped—sure he saved them and killed the men who did it, but he could have prevented it as well. He watched as his own men would be killed in the streets, shot down like dogs, constantly saying ‘that’s the price you pay for being in this thing’, all the while knowing the real reason behind the killings. Did he fight off imaginative rivals?? Of course not, there were men who wanted Uncle Darwin dead just to take over his lucrative businesses.
When his nephew, my father, was kidnapped and beaten within an inch of his life and dropped off on our Uncle’s front doorstep, the only thing he says to him as he recuperates is don’t worry about because the boy ain’t stupid just maybe a little crazy. I at times questioned my own loyalty to this man, a man who on one hand seemed to appreciate the work his men—especially his nephews—put in for him and on another, seemed so underhanded and cold. His love for us, I at times believed, stopped when it came down to the business for we weren’t his nephews but his men who were expected to do a job.
I understood Seth on many points during the conversations we had such as when he said: “Money can limit a person’s love.” That was our Uncle most of the time he loved us but he loved money more and it explained much of his actions when one of his men screwed up, and I remember being there as a witness to what was said on both sides when he would let a man know he was dismissed from being a part of the family, yet the way he did Seth was seen a backstab by many in the family, including my father.
He and I would have many conversations once he retired from the business and after many of the families rivals were long gone, he would look over at me as I sat in a chair at his kitchen table and he’d say “Son, I want you to know, a lot of what I’ve told you I’ve done so cause I always felt most of what you was involved in with the family was wrong and I was wrong as your father for letting it happen. You should’ve been in school, not takin’ people out, you were supposed to be getting’ an education—and I mean sittin’ in a classroom somewhere, not the kind of education I and your Uncle gave you. Now though, it’s too late, because it’s not over. There are gonna be folks comin’ after you when I’m gone, son. The same way they came after me when Uncle Darwin died is the same way they gonna come after you, and I know we taught you a lot in this thing and that you can take care of yourself, but it’s gonna be a little different now because you got a family.”
I was thirty-five and had been married for two years and had two children when Uncle Darwin died and forty when my father and I had this talk, and the revenge from rivals is part of why he retired: my father was tired. He had been in The Life for thirty-five years by this time, and since he didn’t want to be in it in the first place when those rivals started—he stopped and handed the family over to Jacob, who was fifty-one along with his brother, whom he made an underboss.
Both my father and Jacob never changed the name of the family out of respect for my Uncle and many members of families who fought my Uncle had died so wars and threats of them had died down once my father and Jacob took over, and both men figured that since Uncle Darwin was gone, that so was Seth. When my sister was killed, it wasn’t such a secret who was behind it and why and it angered my father that Uncle Darwin wouldn’t let him retaliate, “I wanted to go after that sick bastard with everything I had, but Uncle Darwin wouldn’t allow it. At first, I never understood it, I didn’t get why would he even let that fool live! I wanted that sick son of a bitch dead.”
My father let Uncle Darwin be his adviser after the old man’s retirement, although I could tell it was our Uncle’s way of still having some power over the family he created, and he knew my father would do anything he told him although my father was in charge, thus when our Uncle told my father not to go after Seth for being behind my sister’s murder he followed the advice, but couldn’t stand it. Could you blame him?? His child has been murdered over something that she and her father had nothing to do with, and the man who’s supposedly the cause of it all tells the grieving father to do nothing. How could my Uncle give such advice, simple: money.
Although he would tell my father, “‘Grandolph don’t do a thing because Mason’s involved.’ ” That’s all he says to me and walks out of my office, no further explanation.” What?? Either my Uncle had lost his mind or he was trying to throw my father off or something by saying that, the only person who knew I lived with Seth was Jacob and he never told anyone about it so, what other reason could our Uncle have had for saying this to my father?
He knew one of the reasons Seth wanted him dead was the life insurance policy that he forced Seth’s mother to sign over to him, in other words, he took the boy’s money which would also had been Seth’s power in The Life because that’s part of how to get the power and respect. His having all of us as his nephews in his family as his hitmen, his enforcers, his money men—all that, he planned. He trusted only us to carry out the orders he gave but at the same time he had no trust in us to not try and bump him off, that would prove to be the irony of the relationship with him, which would at times bring out his own paranoia, as it did my fathers: you only trust your men so far before you start to see them differently, start to begin to think they’re plotting to do away with you.
However, there are times when those fears are legit, such as when it was decided that one of our men had to go after he was jailed on drug charges and decided to rat out the family for a lighter sentence, my father was in charge at the time and he had the warden bribed so two of the guards could take the guy out for us and make it look like an accidental death. This was done by the guards paying off three big inmates to beat the shit out of the rat, and this was done by the guards convincing one of the prisoners that the stool pigeon had eaten snacks that were brought with the inmate’s commissary.
The guards then had the prisoners take the body and put in a dirty sheets basket and roll it to the laundry where two of our men posing as guards were waiting to take the stiff for a ride out into the country to dispose of his body. It would be problems like these my father would have while leading the family until 1959, when the new breed from the rival families decided to try and test him, thus he gave the family over to Jacob and his brother whom still had connections in Chicago and used them heavily, it was one of these connections who told Jacob that I lived with and worked for Seth.
At some point, I had to ask Jacob why was he so concerned with what I was doing? “Because,” he says, “this really ain’t the way of life for a young man like you. But, you chose to do it, so.” I said, “Well, from what you sayin’ you didn’t think it was a way of life for you, either.” “No I didn’t, but, like you and so many other guys in our profession, I had no choice. Like my daddy said before he was killed ‘Ain’t no colored man lookin’ to be a shoe shine boy all his life’, so rather than work and make somebody else money my daddy decided to work for himself and make his own money.”
Jacob had no choice because his brother wouldn’t give him one and neither would their circumstances, what some folks don’t know is a lot of men of color went into The Life to get away from the prejudices they faced, now being a part of The Life didn’t always work—like with my cousin Walter, but it did offer a black man a way to be equal and make a decent living. That’s part of how Uncle Darwin saw it when he went in, “I couldn’t be some white man’s boy, I couldn’t do it. Shinin’ his shoes, fetchin’ his water and bein’ called a nigger at the same time.”
In my Uncle’s mind, he was just as much a man as any white man, he loved having a corrupted politician by the balls, on a string because it meant they did what he told them to do, and not the other way around. He wasn’t a boy he was a man who could take you down if he wanted, and he could do it without going down with you! The things he had on certain politicians didn’t limit itself to local politics it went beyond those boundaries; my Uncle and his power in The Life is one of the reasons J. Edgar Hoover denied Organized Crime existed. There was no way a man like Hoover, who so desperately wanted the admiration of his country, would go up against a man like my Uncle since my Uncle and other men knew of some of Mister Hoover’s secrets.
And Hoover wasn’t the only man who’s secrets my Uncle knew of: although my Uncle didn’t run brothels and he didn’t like the idea of being a pimp, he did at times arrange for certain men in politics to have tryst with various women hence his knowing local pimps, he would personally go to the girls man and talk with him a bit, letting him know that a certain higher up wanted one of his girls for the night or sometimes for a weekend. Once my Uncle had to send some of his men after one Senator because he tried to keep the hooker he was with, he had “fallen in love” and didn’t want her to go back to that life, but her pimp threated to kill my Uncle and his ‘whole damn family’ if the girl didn’t return, so early one morning Uncle Darwin and two of his men take a trip to this man house where they find the girl. At first, my Uncle tries to persuade the Senator to let the girl go by promising to get him a new one, one that wasn’t so tied down to her man.
The Senator wouldn’t go for that because he and this young woman were to be married and have a family (so he thought), next Uncle Darwin asks him would it work if he got him a different girl like the one he had, no dice.
“I hated to have to do what I did, but, I got up walked a few feet away from the Senator and quickly pulled out my gun, turned and fired four shots into his head. It was either that or have shots fired into me.”
They took the girl from the Senators house and back to her pimp, who then turned around a beat her senseless for putting him through what happened, she got word to my Uncle what her man had done. At first, he wasn’t going to do anything, he figured that was the girl and her man but my Uncle got scared that the girl would rat on him about the Senator, yet Mister Blythe would stop my Uncle from killing the pimp, “Like I told Darwin, killing that man wasn’t gonna help because most girls in that are loyal to the man over them. If he had killed him, then she woulda ran to the cops and that woulda been that.”
The pimp would live another day, but the girl wouldn’t, she would get the bullet that her man was to get for a beef he had with someone else; she was only seventeen. From that, I always kept in mind: if you want someone dead, you better have a good aim, and you better not miss.
To Be Continued…