Brett Halliday

At the Point of a. 38


Murray Gold-liquid brown eyes, soft voice with an occasional trace of a stammer, only five feet six and with skin that seemed a half size too large-didn’t look like a criminal, and this had given him an enormous competitive advantage. Seen coming out of a meeting that had just handed down a death sentence, or ordered that somebody’s knees be broken, he looked like some dim Jewish accountant, who didn’t bet, drink, sniff cocaine or commit adultery, who had never experienced any unusual pain or excitement. Headaches, sore throats, hemorrhoids-never any of the glamorous ailments like ulcers or gonorrhea. Worries about car payments, not about being kidnapped for ransom or murdered by hired hit-men in an expense-account restaurant. Jail-house photographers, artists who can make even an Episcopalian bishop look like a child molester, had had a crack at Gold twice, once for robbery and once for suspicious loitering, early raps which he beat without difficulty. To go by the mug shots, the police had been dozing that day, and had arrested the wrong man.

As a boy, like most others in his generation, Gold began with small neighborhood hold-ups. Few people took him seriously. A delicatessen-owner, confronted by the fierce but unprepossessing figure of Murray Gold, asked first if he meant it, if the pistol he was holding would really fire. Gold showed a mouthful of crooked, yellowish teeth, which he later had capped. The delicatessen-owner then emptied his cash register, but there was something about the way he did it, almost contemptuously. So Gold, two days past his sixteenth birthday, killed him. About to leave with his meager loot, Gold had an idea. Here was an opportunity to establish that he was not quite as inoffensive as he looked. He went behind the counter and stamped on the dead man’s face. At that period boys his age made a practice of wearing steel inserts in their heels. Finally, he stuck a pickle into the bloody mouth. He got no pleasure out of any of this. But unless he could persuade his contemporaries that in spite of his mild, pimpled appearance, he was basically vicious, he knew he could never expect to have much of a career.

Prohibition at the time had three years to run. Those were the golden years. The market had been divided, and now the survivors could concentrate on making and spending money. Gold never seemed to spend much, but he accumulated vast sums. And this was the best kind of money, the kind that didn’t have to be shared with Internal Revenue.

Until the very end of his life, Gold never had to kill anybody again. Of course he frequently ordered killings, it was part of the way these people did business. They couldn’t call on the courts to enforce their kind of contract, or to collect a debt. Gold did what was necessary, but in his own style. While others were boisterous and quarrelsome, he was calm. No one was ever allowed to see him angry. At twenty, even his closest associates thought he was thirty. At forty he was already being referred to as the Old Man.

The others liked to move around in big cars, showing off their power. Gold stayed home in his stocking feet. He told an interviewer years later that the only times he had ever entered a speakeasy had been during the afternoons, to go over the books.

He handled payoffs and selected judges and D.A. s. He became one of the most skillful political puppet- masters of his era, and if the audience ever caught a glimpse of Gold at the other end of the strings, it was a fleeting one.

He was receptive to other people’s new ideas, though he rarely had any of his own. Several of the great garment-trade rackets of the middle thirties were manipulated by him. At that time he had two principal rivals for control of New York. One, at the end of the decade, was jailed for running prostitutes-a joke to anyone who knew the man; he had moved on from prostitutes years before. The second was arrested on some minor charge and beaten up and humiliated in jail. When he came out he looked much older, and had lost his authority. Murray Gold was very big from then on. He became known as Chairman of the Board, or Prime Minister, although in his organization there was no real board and certainly no king.

He was careful not to lock himself into situations. He believed in research and development, long before that term came into common use. He liked to work with politicians from their earliest move, before they won the first election. He kept his money fluid. Actually he was as ignorant in financial matters as in most others, but he had sense enough and money enough to buy expert advice.

After World War II, gambling became his main source of power and income. At one time he owned the basic racing wire, two Las Vegas hotel-casinos, much of downtown Havana, the big coin-machine companies, numbers in two major cities, a racetrack and a football team-although ownership, again, is not a precise word for his relationship to these properties. The Treasury Department sleuths had become more sophisticated, and on paper, Gold had never owned anything in his life, not even a car. He owned numbers, for example, for just as long as his colleagues acknowledged that he owned them.

He was never shot at. Nobody tried to blow up his car.

He came to dislike northern winters, and in a new division in the early 1950s, he allotted himself southern Florida and the Caribbean. He lived modestly, on a manufactured island in Biscayne Bay, between Miami and Miami Beach. His clothes always seemed somewhat wrong, and they fitted him only approximately. He married twice, without success. He enjoyed the company of girls in their late teens, and he usually kept one in the house. They were drab girls, who fitted into his generally unspectacular style, and they mystified his friends; a man in Gold’s position usually picked someone with good looks and a nice figure, and show-business aspirations. Such ill-assorted couples were seen all the time in the Beach hotels or in the clubhouse sections of Tropical Park or Hialeah. But then, Murray Gold didn’t go near those places. He liked the tranquillizing effect of TV in the evenings. The FBI and cop shows gave him great amusement, sometimes causing him to laugh so hard that he ended up coughing.

Most of his girls were Jewish. Some were able to cook simple meals. One was a skilled masseuse. Gold had really appreciated that massage; unfortunately, she wanted her mother to live with them, a terrible, talkative woman, and in the end he wrote the girl a small check and sent her away.

He remained important through three wars and five presidents, longer than any major criminal figure in this century. He had learned from the rocketlike careers of men like Luciano and Capone. The famous Al, for a time another winter resident of the Miami area, had become such a publicized star that a whole movie cycle was built around him-not just one movie, but a school of movies. He became a symbol, a myth. Americans who lived through that period would never forget Scarface Al. But the interesting thing about the story was that he had only four good years, and then was picked up and jailed like a common drunk, and died wretchedly, stone broke and without sycophants or friends.

By living carefully, Gold avoided this kind of dangerous celebrity. The newspapers ignored him, and consequently the police ignored him, while chivvying and tapping and tailing, and in general making life miserable, for the flashier mobsters with their bodyguards and their blondes and big cars. (Gold drove a Chevrolet.) But his secret couldn’t be kept forever. References to him began to appear. When crime reporters asked their newspaper morgues for the envelope on Gold, they were surprised to see how fat it had become. His inconspicuousness became conspicuous, a trademark. His lack of color turned into color. For here was a man with more power than the gaudy Al in his prime, and yet he suffered from swollen ankles and had dowdy, scared-looking girl friends. The story was improved by exaggerating his power, and he was given credit in the papers for deals he had never come near. The crime writers had long ago decided that organized crime was tightly controlled by a small group of fanatical Sicilians, and they were bothered only briefly by the fact that Murray Gold was a Jew, not an Italian. The hamhanded mafiosi obviously knew nothing about corporate finance, and they needed Gold to do that kind of thinking for them. And so in the new mythology, Gold became the Bankroller, the Wizard, who knew how to launder dirty money by shifting it from pocket to pocket and back and forth between countries.

And at that point his immunity was at an end.

He had been brought to this country from Poland at the age of six months. While one branch of the Federal

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