Why don't you just pay him what you owe him?
The Little Man's words had stung, flat and underlaid with enough sarcasm that made Jimmy itch to toss him out the bay window. Like Jimmy didn't fucking know that. Like Lansky didn't know that Jimmy didn't have the $5000.
The invitation to the Fairmount threw him, too. Luciano dropping money on good seats and a suite at the Fairmount wasn't shocking, but the fact that Luciano just shrugged when Lansky issued the invite was. Jimmy hasn't been kosher with Luciano in a long time, and Lansky knows that, so what's the kid playing at?
He had planned to listen to the fight over the radio, take Richard to the broadcast and get his friend to loosen the hell up for a while. But Richard has been grumbling about things he "needs to do", so Jimmy had lit a cigarette and told the New York boys he was in. Dropped Richard off at his bedsit (and really, Richard should just move the fuck into his place already) and left Angela and Tommy on the boardwalk with some broad before making the drive up to Jersey City.
Lansky had handed him a room number and told him to meet them up at the suite for "a little before-party". As he pulls his car up to the hotel, Jimmy considers just blowing off. Finding a bar that's carrying the fight and keeping his own company.
In the end, he's not sure why he goes upstairs, but Meyer Lansky's sly grin might have something to do with it.
Luciano's holed up in the corner with a broad on each arm when Jimmy walks in. A blonde and a brunette and if neither of them have Ma's snub nose or red hair or long legs, then that's fine with Jimmy. The Sicilian nods at him, gesturing back to the office, and Jimmy picks up a bottle of whiskey (the really good shit, straight from Ireland) as he winds his way through the hangers-on and the working girls.
He walks into the office to the sound of a gun cocking at his head, and pulls his own piece.
"It's all right, Charmaine. Mr. Darmody's a friend."
Lansky is behind the desk, a boy-king like Rothstein's shaped him to be, and the gun is held in the grip of a girl around Lansky's age who's perched on the edge. She uncocks the hammer with a flick of her finger, tucking the gun into her purse. Jimmy holsters his own gun.
"Business?" she asks.
"Of course," Lansky responds, gesturing for Jimmy to take a seat. "Don't worry, we won't miss any of the fight."
"I will knock the shit outta you if we do. Got 200 on Demspey wiping the floor with Carpentier."
Lansky pulls out a money clip and peels off a few hundreds, handing them to Charmaine. "Give this to Ernie, same odds, with a KO in under ten rounds."
"Gotcha," Charmaine says, sliding off the desk and passing Jimmy on her way out the door. "Later, handsome."
"See you down there," Lansky says.
"Wasn't talking to you, Meyer," she calls over her shoulder, laughing at the grin on Lansky's face.
It's . . . odd. He's never seen the Little Man like this, flirting with a broad, relaxing on a night off. It's always guns and booze and the snarl of Luciano and the shadows of Nucky and Rothstein over everything. But this is neutral territory, a suite at the Fairmount, and Lansky's dressed in a sharp grey and black suit that's practically still got the tailor's measuring tape attached.
Lansky passes him two glasses for the whiskey, and sits back in his chair. His next statement floors Jimmy.
"I'll loan you the money to pay off Horvitz."
"Why the fuck would you do that?" Jimmy asks flatly, downing half his drink.
Lansky doesn't answer, at first. He gets to his feet, paces to the window and looks out over Jersey City. Jimmy bets the view ain't as good as the one Rothstein's got from his Park Avenue place, but Lansky flips a pen in his hands and finally speaks.
"Because I hope men like Manny Horvitz are a dying breed. You've seen his freezer, am I right?"
"Yeah, I seen it."
Jimmy uses the improper grammar on purpose - Princeton honed whatever edges Nucky hadn't already sharpened - because he wants to see how Lansky responds. If it were Rothstein or Nucky, they'd correct him.
"We're business partners, Jimmy," Lansky says instead. "It would be a business loan, and I expect that you would eventually pay me back. More than that, I would like to think of you as an honorable man. Someone else might have shot Charlie and I in the woods that night."
There's a fine burn to his words, anger directed not at Jimmy or himself, but another target. And Jimmy knows what it feels like to be betrayed by a father, thrown into the deep end and left to swim to shore.
"We're not in your house yet," Jimmy says.
"No, we're not. But we're closer."
That they are, in both distance and resolve.
He takes a drink, rolls it around in his mouth and savors the burn. "What did you invite me up here for, Lansky?"
"Meyer," he insists, and fine. Jimmy gave him the courtesy of his name up in New York, he can return the favor.
"I invited you here because I want to make you a business proposition," Meyer says, swirling the dregs of his whiskey and
finishing them off in a rougher gesture than Jimmy expects from the impeccably-mannered Jew. "We can have another whiskey and you can hear me out."
Lansky's smile is small, genuine, and Jimmy finds he likes it better than the wide, practiced one.
"Or you're welcome to find the money to pay Mr. Horvitz yourself."
It's not even a choice. Jimmy has debts to pay, and if Nucky taught him anything, it's that money can fix a lot of the world's ills. He has a wife and son to provide for, a liquor business to run, and there are worse people to be in debt to than Meyer Lansky.
"Pour me another. Let's hear this business proposition."
Christ, can Lansky talk. Just one sentence after another, point after point laid out like a perfect battle formation. The growing heroin and opium trades. The need for them both to diversify. The profit to be made by moving from bootlegging to owning speaks. Making and using contacts from every walk of life imaginable - the scrappiest kid from the slums can know more than the man who pays his salary.
(Jimmy knows Meyer is thinking of the crazy little kid, his protege. Bugsy something. Kid's got balls the size of fucking cantelopes, mouthing off to Masseria's boys like that.)
"We can't just be content with pieces of the bootlegging trade," Meyer says, waving his cigarette around as he talks. "Rothstein, Thompson - they should know better. We're gonna take it all."
Jimmy leans back, crosses his arms. "And we're back again to me coming to talk to you in your house. What about Rothstein?"
Meyer is quiet. And Jimmy knows how important the Bankroll is to him; knew it the first time he set eyes on Lansky. The Little Man with the impeccable manners and backbone of steel, talking like he was in a counting house instead of on his knees with a gun to his head. Wearing a tie that just so happened to match Rothstein's favorite shade of blue.
But if he wasn't allowed to show Nucky any mercy, how can Rothstein be different?
"I understand your point, Jimmy. I do." Meyer says. "But you can't deny that your - shall we say, mis-step? - put the men in power on alert."
From Luciano, this would have been more crudely stated, and Jimmy might have punched him in the head. But the voice in his head that used to sound like Nucky or his Ma, and now sounds like Richard, tells him that he can't fault Meyer for his honesty.
"This is not to say that you're incorrect in saying that things need to change in New York. I owe Arnold Rothstein my life and any success I've ever had - but if he taught me anything, it's that most people will never see the long con coming. That includes him."
"What's that mean?"
Meyer flips open a closed ledger on his desk, and turns it to face Jimmy. "Those are the bets I've placed in Rothstein's name tonight. They'll bring in close to a million. Charlie and I are about to present this to him tomorrow, along with a stake in our heroin importing. You know that saying about flies and honey."
"If he's as smart as you say, he'll see it coming."
"Yes, he will. What he won't see coming is other, personal business. Suffice it to say, we'll be in a position to keep AR as an asset, while preparing for a day when he will outlast his use."
"That's pretty cold," Jimmy remarks. "That's colder than Horvitz's freezer."
He's never seen Meyer look so resolved, so focused. Sharp edges in his eyes and a curl to his fists he didn't have on his knees in Chalky's distillery. It's almost a soldier's ice, like the calm in his head when he pulls his knife, the slow exhale of Richard behind his sniper rifle. But Meyer won't ever be standing over Arnold Rothstein with a weapon, and that's the difference between them.
"Zima Odessa jest Grodno lato," Meyer says, and Jimmy is confused until a voice from the doorway replies.
"Odessa's winter is Grodno's summer."
Luciano is leaning against the doorway, smoking, and Jimmy rolls his eyes. "Didn't know you spoke Polack."
"I don't. It's fucking Russian. I speak Italian, English, Yiddish, a couple words in Gaelic, enough German to insult someone's -" He pauses, and no one will finish that sentence, not with their history. "Enough German to curse. Only Russian I know is from Meyer and his parents."
That says a lot. The two New Yorkers are close, everyone knows that, but Jimmy hadn't seen the real evidence of it until now. Strangely, it makes Luciano a little less of a jackass.
"And your accent is still shit," Meyer says, standing up and buttoning his suit jacket.
"Nobody'd complain but you, Jewboy," Luciano returns. He turns to Jimmy. "You listen to Meyer's song and dance?"
Jimmy thinks of Princeton, that ivory tower crumbling under him. Of his mind wiped blank by drills and trenches and going over the top. Of that first panicked night in the woods with Al. Of Nucky exiling him and of his mother fresh from Luciano's bed. Of Richard asking him if he'd fight for him. Of Angela and Tommy, wanting only his honesty and getting too much.
"I'm in," he says. "Crispin's Day and all."
Luciano looks, predictably, confused, but Meyer claps them both on the shoulder and smiles.
"We band of brothers, then. Trust me, Jimmy, this is gonna work."