Young Tony Hendley, skinny and black, was trapped like an animal and getting sick. Here he was shackled by the left wrist to a desk at police headquarters in downtown Washington, and instead of a sweet syringe he was getting the aches and tremors of heroin withdrawal.
In a few moments, the arresting officer would return from the records room downstairs and he'd be mad because Tony had given him a phony name and address. Hendley's stomach knotted. The rollers (police) had charged him with armed robbery; he might not be back on the street again for years.
His head lolled on the desk, and his thoughts turned to the recent months of good money he had made by stealing things and selling them to the mob. That very night, in fact, a party was promised at the organization's warehouse for all the thieves who had made the Mafia's Washington operation such a success.
There would be women, booze, strong drugs, door prizes for everybody. If he could just get there, he could somehow find safety. They had dope, money, and people who could take care of him. His kind of people.
He tugged at the manacle, snug around his wrist and attached by a short chain to a hasp on the side of the desk in the robbery squad room. He looked closer and a thought struck him. Draping his coat over the desk to hide his effort, Tony fished a dime out of his pocket and began loosening four screws that fastened the hasp to the desk. In a few minutes he was free, the chain dangling uselessly from the manacle still locked to his wrist.
Hendley slid into his coat, hiding the police bracelet. He crawled to the open door, then got to his feet and strode purposefully into the hall. Within moments, he was safely downstairs, outside, and hailing a taxi from the broad sidewalk in front of Washington Metropolitan Police headquarters.
He headed north toward the dilapidated brick row houses and seedy commercial strips where he lived and prowled. Maybe he should get out of town fast, Tony thought, far away where he would be safe, unknown, beyond the reach of the D.C. police. But to do that he needed money.
Pasquale (Pat) Larocca, counterman at the P.F.F. warehouse, had plently of money. For months, Tony had been bringing Pat credit cards, typewriters, television sets, purses - whatever he could steal - and he had been paid well. Some of the easiest money Tony had made in his 21 years.Pat was the best fence in town. He had said so again and again, and Tony believed it. Pat had never been touched by the police.
And now there was the party, Pat had personally given Tony an invitation: "7:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, 1976" was scribbled on the Mafia business card that read "P.F.F. Inc., 2254 25th Place, N.E., Washington, D.C. Phone 526-4032."
"This is my chance to impress the Man," Pat had told him. "Don't embarrass me by not showing up. My boss will be here. He wants to meet you."
Things would be loose and easy at the P.F.F. party - with a chance maybe to lift some of the drugs, Hendley thought. After all his months of bringing stuff in there, they would never suspect he would do that. I'll rip 'em off, sky up and split, he thought.
When he got near home, Tony scrambled out of the cab and headed for a telephone booth, where he called Pat.
"I got arrested," he burst out.
"Tough," Pat said.
"- But I got away!"
"Oh, yeah? In that case, you go home and hide and then come on over to the party. We've got some people here to take care of you."
Tony got to the 25th Place warehouse about 8 p.m., wearing the dark-suit he had been arrested in, a print shirt with oversize collar, and a knit watch cap pulled down on his head to ward off the night's chill.
He was later than his appointed time, but figured they would let him in, since he was such a regular customer. Following the usual procedure, he telephoned ahead from a public phone booth at the end of the block.
"Hey, Tony, how ya doin', man!" Pat boomed on the phone, sounding especially happy.
"I'm down at the phone booth and I've got a problem. I gotta get off the street."
"Well, come on down!" Pat yelled.
Tony walked in the front door, setting off an alarm he could not hear, and climbed the metal stairs to the P.F.F. offices on the second floor of the building. He was a friendly figure, peering through the window of the locked P.F.F. door. His enthusiastic smile masked the beatings of his childhood and the years spent in foster homes and city institutions for homeless and troublesome children, and the stealing, and the dealing in drugs.
Tony held up his left hand.
"What you got on there?" Pat shouted through the door. Tony's grin spread as he clenched his fist and shook his manacled hand in the window.
"You got a handcuff on?" Pat asked, his voice cracking with amazement.
"Come on in."
The door swung open with a buzz. At first Tony saw nothing amiss. There was Pat, bearded, shaggy-haired, stationed behind the chest-high counter, gripping his carbine. This time, instead of fatigues, he was wearing a black bow tie, ruffled formal shirt, and dark maroon dinner jacket.
The enforcer, Michael Franzino, stood as usual at a counter behind Pat. Leveling a shotgun at Tony, the same way he had greeted every customer for months. From somewhere behind the wood-paneled walls, in the back reaches of the warehouse, Tony could hear the swelling sounds of the Commodores doing "Sweet Love."
"How'd you escape, man?" Pat inquired, pausing to buzz two other guests in, The fence's hands grabbed at the loose chain, fondling the links.
"Hey, my man here just escaped," he announced to these new arrivals. "Did you see anything suspicious? Hey, he just escaped. We might have to hide him real quick."
Pat nodded to one of his helpers and said something that sounded Italian. "ARRIBA-DEECH."
Angelo, swarthy and grim, with flashing black eyes and slicked-back hair, came around the counter and began patting at Tony's leisure suit. Angelo looked peculiar in a tuxedo, Tony thought. He hadn't seen a way to make a move yet.
"Angelo's gonna check you over," Pat said. "We gotta put protection on the boss . . . You got any pieces on you? We'll give 'em back to you at the end of the party."
Tony was unarmed.
"They already lookin' for me, you know.'" he said, glancing about restlessly and holding up his manacled arm. "You got a saw or something to cut these off with?"
Pat asked once more what he had done. Sometimes he got too personal, Tony thought, and then he began to explain.
"What happened man, was, like I robbed someone . . . like . . . the girl was standing there . . . she snitched . . . the rollers caught us."
"Well, they don't have any evidence on you?"
"Naw, naw, naw."
"Well, who did you rob?"
"I don't even know the girl, really."
"Stick her up with a gun? You gotta piece, you wanna hide it?"
"I already threw the place away."
"Where was this?"
"Fourth and N."
"Damn, I hope you don't bring no heat on us," Angelo said.
"No . . . They don't even know my real name."
"Well, then," Angelo said to Pat "give 'em the door prize."
This whole scene could be cool, Tony thought, but on the other hand here was Pat aiming a carbine at him and Angelo frisking him down, and this is supposed to be a party?
He decided he would take his chances running. He didn't want any part of this party.
"I want you to know you're gonna have a good time tonight," Pat beamed. "You're gonna meet the boss . . . that's him comin' now . . ."
Tony could hear heavy feet pounding toward him. Just as he was about to bolt, a wall seemed to collapse behind him and suddenly the room was filled with uniformed men with riot helmets, flak jackets, shotguns, and pistols. They rushed forward, shouting orders, and grabbed him. He was spun around and shoved against a wall. They pulled his arms back and he could hear and feel a new set of handcuffs being clamped on his wrists.
"Tony!" Pat said, his voice cracking with glee. "You've just won the door prize! We're police officers - and you're under arrest!"
Tony scanned the room, speechless in fright. They really aren't police officers, he thought. They're Mafia men out to kill me because too many people know about the warehouse.
They couldn't be cops the way they'd given money to people for months. Cops would have arrested me the first time I came in there. Other thieves had sold these men guns and walked away with cash. He waited to hear a weapon cock.
They pushed him toward a small back room. If they were the cops, he was in trouble. Not only for the armed robbery but all the other things he had sold to Pat. And if they were Mafia, he'd be killed. Strangely, he found himself hoping they were police.
Quickly, he was downstairs where other party "guests" were lined up at processing tables and swarms of men stood around, some wearing blue jackets with police stenciled on the back, others just walking around with cups of coffee. Man, he thought, I'm all right now.
He was strip-searched and led to a bench in another room, where he was handcuffed to a chain alongside other customers who had come expecting a party. Many hung their heads. As the finger-popping theme music from "S.W.A.T." boomed into his ears from a warehouse stereo, the truth broke on Tony Hendley:
They've been hustling me for months - these guys aren't any fences: Pasquale Larocca and Angelo and all the other Italians at this place called P.F.F. - all cops!
Next: Try to avoid getting killed.