Our Real Life Gangster and Resident Loan Shark

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In Versailles, France, Frank was our real life gangster and resident loan shark. Our go-to guy for a payday loan before our military payday arrived.

Submitted: May 17, 2015

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Submitted: May 17, 2015

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Our Real Life Gangster

and Resident Loan Shark

by

Tank Gunner

 

Frank was our banker.  We went to him every month for a payday loan.

After more than five and a half decades, memory now is unsure whether his last name was Francini or Franchetti.

Nevertheless, I do remember Frank came from Brooklyn, New York, controlled by the Profaci family, which later became the Colombo family.  Connected with the Profaci/Colombo family, Frank ran numbers and was courier for mob associates.  He wasn't in the Mob, the Mafia, La Cosa Nostra, but he portrayed the stereotypical, low-level criminal we adored in the 1940s and 1950s movies.

Frank was the real thing, our go to, resident, loan shark.

Frank served jail time for petty crimes.  He swore he never used a pistol or knife, or hurt anyone.  We believed him.  Hell, as kids ourselves, we admired him.  Frank was our gangster, right out of the picture show.

Drafted into the United States Army at age 21 in 1956, Frank somehow passed through all entrance tests with his petty criminal record and wound up as a Military Policeman.  The irony of a criminal being a cop who continued to be a criminal amused all of us.  A Private First Class in the 520th Military Police Company stationed in Versailles, a few kilometers across the Seine River west of Paris, Frank's Army pay at the end of each month was about $78, same as mine.  My United States Air Force Air Police detachment resided in the barrack with the MP Company.  The MPs performed police duties and provided security at SHAPE Headquarters in Vaucresson.  More than three dozen countries maintained headquarters offices for military and civilian staff at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, SHAPE.

The SHAPE Commander, General Lauris Norstad, the youngest Air Force four-star general, lived with his wife, daughter, and two cocker spaniels in palatial quarters in Marnes-la-Coquette, a dozen kilometers northeast of Versailles.  The ten of us in my Air Police Detachment provided security for the General and his family at their home.

?Frank had thick, very black, hair that was always well coifed and neatly trimmed.  He was short at five feet, five inches and small at 130 pounds.

Whether dressed in his military uniform or an expensive black civilian suit he was debonair, clean, and tidy.  His casual attire never varied; black trousers, a thin white belt, and a white "silk type" long sleeve shirt.  Frank never wore jeans, yet his favorite footwear was black cowboy boots.  Always visible hanging from his neck was a gold chain with a gold cross, properly sized to his stature. 

Frank was well mannered and courteous.His broad smile was contagious.  A good listener, he had time for everyone.  He loved to tell stories about his Kingdom in Brooklyn.  We loved to listen to his escapades and conquests, we imagined ourselves in his world there back home.  It was rare he went out with us, but when he did, he was the big spender and treated us to drinks and a meal.  Frank did not smoke, nor drink beer or whiskey.  He loved expensive French burgundies.

Easy going and compassionate, Frank once gave, without obligation, a fellow military policeman four hundred dollars to send home to needy parents and siblings.  In 1958 four hundred dollars was a hell of a lot of money, enough to pay two month's rent, pay bills, and buy groceries.

Frank was always ready to loan money to us.  Since we had a place to sleep and a free meal three times a day, our simple financial needs supported poker and crap games as well as excursions into Paris to chase encouraging, voluptuous women.  While we sought him out to borrow, we hurried with our money on payday to pay back.

His rate was five dollars for seven-fifty in return, ten for fifteen, twenty for thirty.  Most of us restricted our borrowing to only ten dollars.  The main reason borrowing only ten was the stiff pay back of fifteen.  For the majority, both Military Policemen and Air Policemen, fifteen dollars was about a third of our net monthly pay.  The second reason, ten dollars could buy a lot of stuff in the Post Exchange we could sell in the Black Market.  For example, with ten dollars we could buy a pair of Levis jeans in the PX for two-fifty and sell them to a French teenager for ten dollars.  We could buy a carton of cigarettes in the PX for one dollar and sell it for five.  While each service member could buy only two cartons of cigarettes each month, smokers persuaded non-smokers to trade their two cartons in exchange for shift duty, shining boots, polishing brass, or other services.  Automobile gas coupons were valued as gold.

Frank did not need associates, a crew, or a gang because we all depended on him as our banker.  We got involved when word got around somebody didn't pay off a loan.  Frank never demanded an IOU; he accepted our word as our bond.  Yet, sometimes somebody missed a date promised to pay.  A welsher was a threat to all of us because Frank could, and sometimes would, deny a loan.  His favorite expression to let us know about a missed pay back was "Turkey".  Most often the culprit's last name accompanied Turkey, such as Turkey Moss, or Turkey Bradford, or Turkey whoever.

So we ended up being enforcers without his needing to ask.  As borrowers, we enjoyed a high success rate in persuading a delinquent debtor to pay back a loan.

Frank had two wall-lockers and two footlockers.  One set contained his military and personal clothing and sundry items.  All his clothes hung square, at a measured space.  Folded or rolled clothing lay on wall-locker shelves, ready for inspection.  Items in the top sections of his footlocker were clean and aligned.  The other set, containing contraband and supplies, reminded me of Sergeant J. J. Sefton in Stalag 17.  He was so organized a glance into his wallet would reveal all bills arranged by denomination, faces up.  Frank never loaned used bills, most seemed as if they came fresh off the printer.

When I questioned why he had five boxes of Mickey Mouse and three boxes of Minnie Mouse sitting on the bottom shelf of his supply wall-locker, he tossed a towel over them and refused to answer.  His silence silenced further interrogation.

A few days later Frank's secret moral and financial support of a small orphanage in Versailles was uncovered when two nuns appeared at the concern gate asking for Private Frankie.  The announcement of two nuns seeking Frank spread throughout our barrack.  A dozen of us rushed to the gate and gawked as the nuns hugged and kissed our banker, our very own gangster, and resident loan shark.

They brought a large cake to celebrate Frank's twenty-third birthday, and to thank their benefactor, for the children, for Mickey and Minnie.  He was embarrassed by the outpouring and public demonstration of affection.  I had never seen Frank blush.

When pressed he shared his secret as an orphan, raised by nuns in Brooklyn.

Our esteem grew larger as we enjoyed his cake and his tales of early childhood.

Frank showed pictures of 'his' Versailles kids; we listened as he told about their excitement, glee, and delight with Mickey and Minnie on Christmas day, 1958.

 


© Copyright 2019 Tank Gunner. All rights reserved.

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