BY: PAUL SINOR
Johnny Morocco hit Atlanta, Georgia in 1953. The former army military policeman changed his name from McDonald and used his military training to become a licensed PI. Johnny’s “office” was a pool room called Big Town in the heart of the city. His clients were the players and the occasional lawyer who came in on their lunch hour. Johnny’s luck ran out the morning he came into Big Town and found a dead man lying on a pool table. With only Thomas the Negro rack boy in the building, Thomas would be the prime suspect.
Once Johnny decided to help Thomas, he found himself caught between emerging crime syndicates in Atlanta, Miami, and the casinos controlled by Myer Lansky in Havana. Cheating wives, roadhouse murders, imported muscle, marked cards, loaded dice, and a dangerous woman named Rachel were but a few of the roadblocks Johnny faced in his task.
With Atlanta Police Detective Sergeant Jack Brewer looking for both the killer and the money the dead man was supposed to be carrying, Johnny must use all his training and instincts to protect not only himself but Thomas as well. If he fails, they both will suffer The Wrath of The Dixie Mafia.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Wrath of the Dixie Mafia by Paul Sinor, Johnny Morocco is a PI in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1953. When he discovers a dead body lying on a pool table, he doesn’t realize the trouble it’s going to cause him. His colored friend Thomas, who worked at the pool hall where the dead man was found, becomes the prime suspect, simply because he is colored. Johnny is convinced his friend didn’t do it, but how to prove it? And since the dead man was supposed to be carrying a large amount of money, the cops and the Dixie Mafia are watching his every move, just in case he’s the one who took it.
Like his previous book, Dancing in the Dark, Sinor has crafted an intriguing mystery with hard-hitting characters and fast-paced action that will keep you turning pages way into the night.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Wrath of the Dixie Mafia by Paul Sinor is a historical mystery/thriller. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1953, it’s the story of Johnny Morocco, a former military policeman now a private detective. He’s a good man, so when a black man Johnny knows is accused of a murder that he didn’t commit, Johnny is honor bound to help him prove it. But what of the money the dead man had with him? The cops and the mafia think Johnny has it since he found the body. Now his life is in danger too.
Wrath of the Dixie Mafia is a fast-paced, tension-filled mystery with a marvelous central character that you can’t help but root for. This is one you’ll want to read again and again.
Johnny Morocco stepped off the downtown bus at Five Points in Atlanta a few minutes after seven, walked across the street, and headed for Edgewood Avenue. Even at that early hour in the spring of 1953, the streets were filling with the workers who swarmed into the largest city in the South. Like any big city, Atlanta had its own signature. That morning it smelled of azaleas, fresh brewed coffee, exhaust fumes, and opportunity. Around him, Johnny heard the sound of car and truck horns, an occasional siren as a police or ambulance answered a call, and the chiming of the massive clock at City Hall, mixed with the voices of the city’s workers and strangers as they started another day.
Seven was early, even for Johnny, but he had tossed and turned throughout the night as he relived days and nights spent in North Africa and Italy in the army during the war. He usually was able to keep the memories safely hidden away, but sometimes they escaped and attacked him as he slept. The memories and the shakes and sweats they caused were behind him as he headed for Big Town. He expected that, even at this hour, Thomas the rack boy and janitor would already have coffee brewing. A cup of Thomas’s coffee and the morning paper would be enough to get him started for the day.
Big Town was a pool room. You could shoot a game for fun, a beer or a couple of bucks. In Big Town the beer was cold, the chili dogs were hot, and no self-respecting woman ever climbed the stairs to the second floor establishment.
It was also where hustlers came for a game. When an out-of-towner came in, the tables cleared and professional hustlers with names like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats took on all comers in a game of rotation, bank or nine-ball. The stakes were as high as the crowd could afford.
There would be no games shot on table number seven this day. That’s where a body lay, blood still seeping from the hole in his chest.
When Johnny tried the street level door leading to the second floor where Big Town was located, it was unlocked. Good. Thomas was on time. He usually came in about seven in the morning to restock the beer cooler, put the chili on to cook and clean up after the previous night’s crowd left. Atlanta had a two a.m. closing time for pool rooms, bars, and the other places considered unsavory, but its lax enforcement was tolerated by the city fathers.
With a light breeze blowing, many of the men on the street wore jackets. The jacket Johnny wore was not so much to protect him from the possible chill, but to cover the .45 automatic pistol in his shoulder holster. This was the same style weapon he carried for the five plus years he served in the US Army, in North Africa, Italy and in the Occupation of Japan. During that time, he carried it in a holster on his hip. Now it rested in a brown leather shoulder holster with a large US embossed on it he purchased at an Army/Navy surplus store for fifty cents. This was the kind of holster used by men who were assigned to tanks. The holster he picked out of the pile on the table at the store had a small dark brown spot on the corner which could have been either blood or a scorch mark from a fire. Either way, Johnny felt the holster had already suffered as much as it could, and he would be safe wearing it.
As he pushed open the door, Johnny saw Eddie, the local bug runner making his morning stop at the shoe repair shop that occupied the ground floor of the building he was about to enter. Eddie was making the payoff delivery. The bug was the name given to the lottery, although illegal, played by many of the people of the city. The owner or one of his two family members who worked there had picked the right numbers and won. Eddie would return in the afternoon to pick up the slips for the numbers played that day.
Eddie held up a hand, acknowledging Johnny. The smell of leather and shoe polish rushed from the open door as he stood there. The old man who owned the shop had been a refugee from Eastern Europe a few years before the war started. The locals said that during the war no American military person could pay for having his or her shoes repaired or shined in the shop.
“Morning, Eddie. What was the bug last night?” Johnny asked, referring to the three digit number taken from the closing stock market report in the Atlanta Journal each evening.
“Nine three seven, Mister John. Always a good number for Tuesday.” Eddie was in his late teens, still close enough to the farm to retain the belief that colored folks addressed white men as mister.
“Check with me on Friday. I’ve got a good number I want to play.” As Johnny stepped into the stairway, he noticed the bulb at the top of the stairs was out and the only illumination in the entryway was the natural light from the early morning sun. As soon as he stepped inside he was hit with the odor of stale beer and day old bar rags. Missing was the smell of fresh brewed coffee. Johnny took the steps two at a time until he reached the top.
The well-worn wooden stairs ended just in front of the main bar. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, Johnny expected to see Thomas either behind the bar or mopping the floor. Thomas lived with his mother and sister in a section of Atlanta known as Cabbage Town. It was not far from the center of the city, yet Atlanta, and all it had to offer, might as well have been a million miles away for most of the people who lived in Cabbage Town.
Thomas walked with a limp from an injury he received during WWII. It was just after D-Day and medical treatment, especially for the few Negro units on the front was catch-as-catch-can. Once when one of the men in Big Town made a joke about Thomas’s limp, he said he had earned it the hard way in France. That gave Thomas an instant boost in stature with all the men who had also served.
The large room that was Big Town was divided in half by the bar. Each half had two rows of seven pool tables. The walls were lined with tall wooden chairs where men sat while they waited for their next shot on the table. The bookies and players sat in those chairs when they listened to the bank of radios broadcasting the day’s selection of baseball games.
“Hey, Thomas? You got the coffee ready?” Johnny stood on the landing at the top of the stairs and looked around. Like the stairway, the room was unusually dark.
“Thomas?” he called cautiously and the feeling that something was not right formed a shiver running from the back of his neck to the tips of his fingers. He usually liked to go on more than instinct, but it was something he trusted and, when it happened, he responded.
To the right, a light was shining over one of the tables. Overhead, suspended horizontally from two five foot lengths of black electrical wire was a three foot long florescent light. It was kept from swinging by cables which ran from the corners of the light to the high ceiling where they were secured. A second wire ran the length of the room over each table. This wire had a row of wooden numbers which could be slid across with the tip of the pool cue. The players kept score with the numbers. In the middle of each row of numbers was the larger number identifying the table.
The only light over table number seven was shining down. It was the only light in the room which was on as Johnny walked toward it. Johnny knew what the light was shining on. The only question was when the “what” would turn into a “who?”
Johnny cautiously approached. It was an instinct born of war and, within the next few steps, he knew what he was going to find. Lying on table number seven was a body. The blood draining from the body stained a dark circle beneath his left shoulder on the green felt of the pool table. A blood-red stain had stopped spreading on his chest. His white shirt looked like someone had poked a small hole just under the pocket on the left side, leaving him the ultimate in a broken heart.
Johnny reached into his own shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Carefully placed behind the pack of cigarettes was the small, black, Zippo lighter he had carried throughout the war. With its square edges, it stood upright between his own flesh and whatever might invade it.
“Maybe if you had one of these,” he said as he flipped open the top, spun the wheel. and touched the flame to his cigarette, “you’d still be here.”
Johnny looked at the lighter he had carried and remembered the man who had been saved when a lighter in his pocket took the hit and stopped a bullet. From that day on, Johnny and almost everyone he knew who was there at the time, carried a Zippo in the shirt pocket over their heart. He hardly ever used it to light cigarettes, and a lighter probably wouldn’t stop another bullet for the next hundred years, but it was always there. Just in case.
Johnny sensed the movement before he heard the sound. He quickly turned toward the noise, squatted slightly, and listened. As he heard it again, he pulled his jacket open so he had quick and easy access to his weapon. The sound was like a door being opened or closed. Johnny was not foolish enough to simply walk toward it. With one dead man on the table beside him, there was no way of knowing if the noisemaker also wanted Johnny to go for a Daily Double. That was a bet he had no interest in.
Johnny had a license to carry, so without waiting to see or hear anything else, he eased the .45 caliber automatic from its resting place in the holster. He maintained the crouch as he walked toward the sound.
Johnny took several steps and saw the source of the sound. It was Thomas.
“Don’t shoot me, Mister Johnny. I ain’t had nothing to do with that argument back there.” Thomas held his hands in the air. Behind him was his mop bucket with the long wooden handle of his mop protruding like a flag pole awaiting the raising of the colors. The smell of stale mop-water filled the air.
“Do you know what happened here, Thomas?” Johnny holstered his weapon.
“Oh, Lawdy, Mister Johnny. That man’s dead, ain’t he?” Thomas had already begun to back up as he spoke. “I got’s to get out of here. They find a dead white man in here wit’ me bein’ the only colored man around, I’ll be hanging before the sun sets.” He backed away and almost tripped over the mop handle as he headed for the door.
“Not yet, Thomas. You need to talk to me before you leave.” Johnny took Thomas by the arm and led him to the table where the man lay. He walked around the table and, for the first time, saw the weapon lying next to the body. “What time did you get here this morning?” He turned to face Thomas.
Thomas was shaking. “’Bout the same I do every day. Little before seven. I catch the bus at six thirty and it takes me to Five Points. I walks from there. Take about five minutes.” He looked at Johnny, his eyes wide with fear. “I swear on my mama’s grave, Mister Johnny, I didn’t do that man no harm.” He took a step closer to the body. “Oh, Lawdy, that man done died right there on that table. I got’s to go. I got’s to go right now, and I ain’t never coming back. You know that’s the truth, Mister Johnny. No matter what you say, the po-lice gonna say it was me. Ain’t no getting ’round that.”
By this time, his shaking was making it hard to understand his words. He was still talking as he turned and headed for the steps.
© 2017 by Paul Sinor