The Last Round
by Daniel B. Young
It was an anomaly of civilized society that everybody liked Harry Harmon; his customers liked him, his employees loved him, even I
liked him and my general opinion of pimps is that they are one step up from pedophiles. A very short step.
Of course, Harry wasn’t your stereotypical pimp. He was only twenty-four years old and had been born into it. Harry had inherited the
Majestic Hotel from his mother, Harriet Harmon. Harriet had been the last of the local old-time Madams, running the hotel as an
upscale brothel. None of his women had to work on the street. Harry was carrying on the tradition as best that he could. True, he
recruited them young as the older ladies retired, but never minors. Rather than hooking them on drugs he had a zero tolerance for
them. He would pay for rehab once, either when he recruited them or during employment. After that they were banned from his
employ if caught using. He would only take a third of their earnings, one third going to the women directly and the other third going
into a savings account that the women received as severance when they decided to leave or retire. One of the reasons I liked him was
that he never auditioned any of his women. He felt it would be incestuous. The only reason he kept the business going was to keep the
women, some who had been his babysitters and surrogate Aunts during his childhood, from being dispersed among other pimps with
what he considered low standards and even lower regard for their women.
Because Harry was a slight build man, 5’ 7”, 135 lbs in wet clothes, he kept John “Brick” Mason on retainer as an enforcer. The
Bricks’ reputation insured that clients wouldn’t get out of line with the women, or that they would pay dearly for doing so. The Brick
also insured that no other pimps ever tried to intimidate Harry’s women into working for them. Brick Mason had been the enforcer
for the local mob bookmaker and shylock, Guy Rome, until his death. Guy had left him the bar/pool hall/ restaurant that had been
his front and two apartment buildings. John had never really worked for the mob, as such, so there was no problem when he didn’t
continue their business. Instead he lived on the income from his inheritance and freelanced as muscle.
It was in the early spring of 94’ when Brick Mason came to my office with the news that Harry was dead. We had crossed paths a few
times over the years, never coming into direct conflict. Our first meeting, many years before, had had us working in consort to rescue
a young lady in serious distress. We had a qualified respect for each other’s professionalism. He was coming straight from his
interrogation by the Steel City Homicide Detectives.
“Why did they haul you in”, I said.
“Harry Harman was beaten to death last night. Every time someone they like gets a black eye they grab me. The cost of having a rep.
Also, it was a pro job. Minimum damage, maximum pain, though carried too long, maybe two, three hours. Whoever did it knew what
they were doing, knew they were killing him slowly and painfully.”
“Convince me you didn’t do it.”
“Come on, you know me. The rough stuff is just business for me, I don’t enjoy it. Whoever did this handcuffed Harry’s hands around
a pipe in the ceiling. He couldn’t run or duck, he could only stand there and take it, even when he couldn’t stand anymore. I wouldn’t
do it like that with a little guy like him, even if was personal. Anybody I go up against has at least a chance of taking me down instead.
Not an even chance, but still.”
“Okay, I’ll accept that. So why come to me?”
“They’re really unhappy about Harry’s death. He had a discount policy for cops ya know. I’m an easy target, they not gonna look far
beyond me. They’ve wanted to nail a collar on me for so long they don’t care what it’s for. It’s a twofer for them. They satisfy his
friends that they have his killer and someone gets big time points for sending me to Statesville. So, I need you to find out who killed
Harry.”
“I know you liked Harry on top of being his muscle so I would’ve thought you’d want to get his killer yourself.”
“I can’t. I’m gonna have a couple of dicks as shadows till this is settled. They followed me here, but not inside so they probably won’t
know that I’m seeing you. My lawyer is two floors up and my next stop.”
“You could lose them.”
“I don’t want to. If Harry’s’ killer does someone else I want them as a solid gold alibi and it could clear me on Harry.”
“I don’t work cheap and I would up it for to work for you.”
“I figured.”
Brick reached into his inside suit pocket and came out with a stuffed envelope.
“Here’s six grand. Find Harry’s killer, prove it and I’ll match it and any reasonable expenses. That OK?”
“It’ll do. Better get up to your lawyers’ office before they come looking for you. I don’t need them hindering me because they know I’
m working for you.”
 
* * *
 
 
Sally Reynolds, A.K.A. “Dawn”, still showed the effects of prolonged sobbing. Her nose and eyes were red, her light makeup smudged
and smeared. At age forty-two she was the current senior lady at the Majestic.
“Everybody loved Harry, you know that. He was like a son to some of us and a brother to the rest. I can’t understand how this
happened.”
“Has anybody been trying to recruit any of the ladies or trying to buy Harry out?”
“There’s always someone making offers until the Brick talks to them.”
“Who was the latest and who’s been asking the longest?”
“Same person, Herman Grouse. Last couple of years he’d make Harry an offer for the hotel every month or so. Harry always said no.
He was afraid of Herman, said he was pure evil, wouldn’t even let him be a guest here. We were all glad of that. We’ve heard stories
about him and sex and they aren’t pretty.”
“I’m not surprised, know what his motto is?”
“I didn’t know he had one other than ‘gimme’.”
“I knew a girl who dated him once. He told her his motto was ‘If you blow me, you owe me.’”
‘What the hell does that mean?”
“That’s what she asked. He explained that he felt that if you did him a favor you owed him a favor for having had the privilege of
doing him a favor. They don’t call him “Herman the Vermin” for nothing. You’re sure none of the other ladies have anything useful to
say?”
“We were together all night crying. Nobody could think of any reason for this. What are we going to do Dan? We’re all afraid we’ll
have to leave here. You were a friend to Harry, do you know who will inherit the hotel? It sounds terrible to ask now but this isn’t just
our work, this place is our home.”
“Harry never confided in me about that. Why didn’t the Brick keep Herman outta Harry’s hair?”
“Brick did put pressure on Herman. He told me Herman just laughed at him. Herman’s too psycho to be afraid of anyone. I think he
creeps out even the Brick. Harry always told him to keep it light. I think he knew if those two ever really went at each other it wouldn’
t end till one of them was dead. Harry wouldn’t hurt a fly. I can’t stop thinking how he died, helpless and tortured.”
This triggered another torrent of tears. I stayed and comforted her for awhile then followed the only lead I had.
* * *
Herman “The Vermin” Grouse had watched “The Godfather Trilogy” one too many times. He didn’t seem to realize that even though
the mob let him run his rackets as long as he paid a “street tax’ to them he would never, ever, be one of them. He had been given Guy
Rome’s franchise but he didn’t stop there. Drugs, hijacking, burglary, chop shops, prostitution, extortion, mugging, anything he could
make an illegal dollar from, nothing was beneath him. His crew were all hardened, ex-cons loyal to him out of self-interest. He paid
them very well and frightened them even more. Yeah, there were scary stories of his brutality and unpredictability, but I noted they
always had the element of the odds being inordinately in Herman’s favor. I never knew of him being in a straight-up fair fight.
His main front was a high-class steak house and lounge called The Platinum Grill, suits and dresses required. He liked to hobnob with
the rich and influential and, in a perverse and limited way, they with him. He had the psychopaths’ gift for charm and manipulation.
He dressed well, lived in a big home, was chauffeured around in a Lincoln Town Car. He seemed to see himself as another Al Capone
or John Gotti. He gave money to charities, fraternal orders, and politicos in an effort to mask his true self. He only succeeded in
deceiving himself but otherwise it worked well for him.
After an unnecessarily rough pat down [I left my gun in the car] I was lead into the inner sanctum of his private office. A room-sized
white shag four inches deep, dark wooden walls and trim, and a desk you could serve dinner for eight on. Behind it, seated in an
antique cloth and wooden chair resembling a throne, was Herman Grouse. I was disappointed to see his hands were unmarked and
manicured. Didn’t mean he didn’t do it but it would have helped me to be sure. He and I had grown up in the same neighborhood,
had been in opposing gangs. We all knew he was nuts when at age eight he began his encyclopedic rap sheet by sticking a sharp stick in
a smaller kid’s stomach because he had birthday money Herman wanted and wouldn’t give him.
“Long time, Daniel. What can I do for you? If you want a reservation I can get you on the list but I’m booked, breakfast, lunch and
dinner, for six weeks.”
“I’m here to ask you about Harry Harman.”
“What about him?”
“He’s dead.”
“I heard, what are you asking me?”
“The way he was killed seemed like your style and he had something you wanted.”
“You got brass ones coming in here talking to me like that. I’m a successful businessman now. I have important friends. The Mayor
and Police Chief are having lunch downstairs right now and on their own dime even. Why would you think you could ask me
something like that?”
“Please Herman, I was there at the beginning, remember? I know who and what you are.”
“Yes, I remember. I remember you were the one who started calling me “The Vermin”. For that alone you shouldn’t walk out of here.
On top of that you come in here and accuse me. What makes you think I won’t personally remind who I am?”
“Because the Mayor and Police Chief are having lunch downstairs.”
“Yeah, you always were smart. One day you’ll be too smart and we’ll settle our unfinished business. But for now I don’t need you
stirring up rumors about me. So, Harry. I invest in stuff. Harry had a good thing, I thought I could make it better. I offered more than
it was worth but he was hardheaded. So what? I can’t afford to be impulsive anymore. I have a respectable reputation now. I don’t
know what happened to put him in the jackpot, but it wasn’t me.”
“You still interested in the Majestic?”
“Sure, it could be a money maker. Not the way Harry ran it. Whoever his heir is will probably sell. Or I could get it at the tax auction.
It’s not that big a deal, it never was. Certainly, not enough to kill over. If it was someone would have taken out that old hag Harriet
years ago.”
“OK, I’ll buy it for now. You should know though I wouldn’t like it if any harm came to those girls. Maybe you should just forget
about that no big deal investment.”
“That’s it, we’re done. This time you can walk out. Don’t come back.”
I left.
 
* * *
I pounded pavement, doors, and snitches for a week and came up with zero. This kind of silence kept bringing my thoughts back to
Herman. Something he had said had seemed wrong to me but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I was surprised early one morning when Harry’s lawyer called me to the reading of his will. I was shocked to find I was the only one
there because Harry had left everything to me. The Majestic, the business and private bank accounts. I was sitting in the park, thinking
what to do, when I felt the cold barrel on the back of my neck. Two of Herman’s crew stood there. One reaching over and relieving
me of my .44 Bulldog revolver.
“The boss says you can come in easy if you like, but you’re to come with us now, one way or another.”
I went easy.
I began to sweat when the Town Car drove outside the city limits. Then I realized they were taking me to Herman’s home. Long
driveway. Tudor style outside, same dark wood and shag as the office inside, only much more of it.
I was seated on a white velvet couch as long as the town car and left alone. I got comfortable. I figured that, at least, he wouldn’t shoot
me while I was sitting on that.
A minute later Herman came into the room and sat on the twin couch opposite me.
“Well Daniel, what do you think?” Herman said, making a wide sweeping gesture toward the house in general.
“Well, it’s big. It’s expensive. It’s nice.”
“Damn right it is. This room alone is worth more than you ever wouldda made in your life. Quite a change from where we came
from, don’t ya think?”
“No question. Why am I being honored this way. I can’t believe I’m welcome here.”
“See. You just can’t let go of the past. I have. And look what I’ve gotten for it. Really, I just want to help you here. I’m not the street
thug you knew anymore. I wanted you to see this so you would understand what you might have if you would be as smart as you think
you are.”
“I’ll admit I’m mystified. What is this all about?”
“Come on, you know.”
I gave him an honest blank stare.
“I have contacts. Anything I want to know I can find out. I know that Harry left everything to you, and I’m willing to make you a very
generous offer for all of it.”
“How generous?”
“That’s more like it. Right to the point. Well, I’ll tell you this. Your days of window peeking and grubbing around are over. You can
retire. Go sit on a beach and have the woman, hell the women, of your choice. What do you think of that?”
“I’m still listening.”
“OK. Take a breath now. Five million dollars.”
“You’re joking!”
“No, not at all. I have a cashier’s check and all the transfer papers ready at my lawyers’ office. A ride back to town, ten minutes and
some ink and your life can begin anew.”
“Harry made a good living, but not that good.”
“Yeah, the way he ran it. Me, I pay you off and I’ll be making a profit before the second year is out. It’s a good deal for me and a
once-in-a-lifetime great deal for you.”
I was speechless.
“Well, what about it. Time’s money.”
“I don’t know, I have some responsibility to the ladies you know. What about them?”
“That’s my business! What do you care about a bunch of whores anyway. You never even got serviced there. I know. I also know
Harry offered it to you gratis and you still passed.”
“Look Herman, I..well..I’m kinda overwhelmed by all this, you being nice to me is the least of it. Also I’m feeling kinda pressured,
being in your patch with the goon squad outside. I’d like to go where I feel comfortable and think about it.”
“Sure go home. I was a little stunned when I made my first million. The boys’ll give you back your piece. Think about it. I know you’ll
see it my way. You gotta high price, but you gotta price, like anybody else. Yeah, you think about it, but only for two days, that’s all the
time the offer is good for. After that I’ll go a different route.”
I left.
Just so you understand, I was speechless all right, but not about the money I could have. I had just then realized three other things. I
knew what had been bothering me about my first conversation with Herman. He had said that he had offered Harry more than it was
worth and he had just gone way overboard with me. If there was one thing I knew about Herman, even as a kid, he never spent a
penny he didn’t expect to make a dollar on. I now knew that I had been looking in the wrong places and I knew that Herman was why
Harry was dead. Herman had told the truth about one thing. He wasn’t just a psychopathic street thug anymore. Oh no. Now he was a
psychopathic Mover & Shaker.
* * *
It took half a day to get the call even with the pressure that I used. A department head at city hall had had a son entrapped by a drug
and sex cult two years before. That was fine with the kid until he found himself as slave labor on one of the several farms the cult
leader owned. I had gotten him out and convinced the cult leader it wouldn’t be worth his trouble to get him back, then made it all go
away. In spite of that his father was not happy to help me.
“This evens it out for us. I don’t even want to remember your name after this risk I’m taking. This doesn’t just involve Herman. Very
important, big money people are involved.”
“I only care about Herman, and this will square us.”
“Okay. Every lot on that block and for six blocks around it belong to Herman except the Majestic.”
“I figured, but how could that kind of money be involved?”
“It has the best access to the freeway.”
“Still.”
“Okay, please, please leave me out of this. It’s a casino group. They need the whole section and if they don’t control it all in the next
month the deal falls through.”
“They would pay that kind of money to buy it from Herman?”
“Not buy. Lease. For a percentage of the take. You’re talking hundreds of millions over time. Now are we done?”
“Yeah.”
It took another two hours to empty the accounts Harry had left me and have my lawyer deed the Majestic to its’ occupants as equal
partners. The deed and a note explaining its’ value would be hand delivered to them. If they were smart, and Sally was, they would all
be more than set for life. Harry would have wanted that. I also called a police detective who owed me and told him they should put
some pressure on Herman’s goons about Harry’s murder. I said they might be more talkative than usual in a couple of days. Might as
well clear the Brick and get his second payment while I was at it.
 
* * *
 
Herman had contacts. Herman knew things. Well so did I. I knew Herman had a socialite mistress. I knew what night he would see her
and I knew that afterward she would be at a big social charity event. I knew he would get his jollies hanging around the mansion paid
for by her workaholic C.E.O. husband who spent half his time on the west coast. I knew that he would be alone because he didn’t
share any of this with his crew. There was only one thing I didn’t know, but I would.
I jimmied in through the sliding glass patio doors. Herman was sprawled on yet another white velvet couch wearing only silk pajama
pants. He was watching a large screen projection TV. He was surprised to see me and my ..44 there.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I’ve thought about your offer.”
“Yeah?”
“I want to know something first.”
“What?”
“Did you have Harry killed and watch or did you do it yourself.”
“I didn’t..”
“Don’t! I know. About the casino. Why you had to get The Majestic.”
“Okay, boy scout. So what. It’s not just me. You’d never guess the names involved. You’re in so far over your head you’ll never see
daylight again. Whatever you do here it’s gonna happen. I’ll be untouchable. That kind of money and associates will make me squeaky
clean.”
“I don’t care, you dumbshit. You pathetic psycho. None of this had to happen. Harry would have sold if you hadn’t tried to go cheap
on him. You just couldn’t see that the only reason he didn’t sell was to protect the ladies, make sure they had a home. If you had told
him what was up and offered him what you offered me he would have jumped at the chance to get out from under. He would have
split it even with the girls and you would have had what you wanted. And your big shot friends might now not have to be worried
about being involved in murder.”
“Now you’re just being naïve. Nothing touches them.”
“I still don’t care. I only want an answer to my question.”
“Okay, yeah I did him myself and I’ll tell you why. It wasn’t just the money or the deal. I could have just set him up to do time or had
him clipped clean. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted it to be slow. I used sap gloves. Haven’t had that much fun in a long time.”
“I still haven’t heard why.”
“Oh, I’ll tell you why! He thought his whores were too good for me! He banned me from his dump! ME! He acted like they were his
sisters and I wasn’t good enough to fuck them!”
“You weren’t.”
“Yeah sure, like your opinion matters to me any more than his. You come here waving that piece around like you’re dangerous. Do
you realize who’s house you’re in? How do you think I got involved in all this anyway? You not only won’t do anything because of the
fallout, you can’t. You’re a boy scout, always were. A tough boy scout, but still. Sure call the police, call the D.A., call the fucking F.B.I.
if you want. Nothing’s going to happen. It can’t. Because if it happens to me it happens to them and they’re the people who decide
what happens. What are you gonna do, shoot me?”
“You guys are all the same. You think because someone won’t extort the weak and helpless that they can’t deal with trash like on your
own level. When I deal with trash I use their rules.”
I fired a round on either side of his head then one between his legs.
“Shit! What the fuck are you doin’! Do you know anything? You can’t do anything here. You’ll have to disappear just for this damage
to the couch.”
“Well let’s make it worth it.”
I fired a round into the damn TV.
“Daniel, just listen to me now. You can not hurt me here. You don’t understand the kind of people involved.”
“On the contrary, I do understand and I’m counting on it. Whatever happens here will just disappear as though it never was, including
you.”
I shot him in his right kneecap. He screamed and rolled onto the floor leaving blood splatter on the couch and smearing it into the
white shag rug. He was game though. He sucked it up and composed himself.
“Okay, okay, you’re a bad shot. It was an accident. Call my boys, they’ll get me to a doctor and I won’t make you pay for this. I’ll still
pay you for the hotel and whores and we can forget about it.”
“I’m an dead shot. Hurts don’t it? Think Harry hurt like that?”
“Stop it. You’re not gonna kill me and if you want to pay for this I’ll be glad to oblige, but why do you give a shit? I offered you a
fortune, I tried to be nice and this is the thanks I get.”
‘Mister know-so-much. You’ve forgotten the first thing we learned on the streets. Once you make it personal you can’t count on
protection. Not even with backup from friends, or family, or gang brothers, or walls and guns.”
“Personal! How the hell is this personal? I couda just had you clipped. I hate your guts, always have, and I still tried to play nice, keep
up appearances, not rock the money boat. I had that area watched for two years while I brought up the property on it. You went there
maybe a dozen times! No sign that you even liked the little shit. How is that fucking personal?”
“Well, I’ll tell you something else you don’t know. You thought Harry was a bastard. The product of some anonymous John. Not so.
Harry’s father wanted to claim him. Harriet begged him not to, pointed out it would be too hard on him to have both as parents.
Divided loyalties. Different worlds. Swore she would love, protect and care for him. And she did. She never wanted him to know who
his father was and I don’t think he did. But you do.”
Finally, what I had waited for. Comprehension on Herman’s face followed by his only true emotion, fear. Now he knew this wasn’t
about the money, the Majestic, the casino, his rise to power, or how powerful his new associates were. This was about street law and
blood ties, no negotiations, man to man, no quarter possible. The rest of it didn’t matter anymore.
“Okay, Okay!  You got a legitimate beef. How was I ta know ? Come on, this isn’t like you. You gotta give me a chance!”
“I wouldn’t have minded a straight-up fight with you, but like I said Herman, your rules. You never gave anyone a fair chance and you
gave Harry no chance at all.”
Desperation next. Crawling away quickly, pulling himself along with handfuls of deep shag rug, then clawing at the turf outside. Leaving
a bloody trail behind him like the oversized slug he was. I let him go. Let him hope. Let him beg. Halfway across the vast manicured
lawn I fired the last round.