The scream of the telephone shatters the air in the room.
"Where the fuck are you?"
"I asked you a question, Benny." The words are harsh and shaking. He's not in control, and Benny knows. Three thousand miles away, he shifts his weight on a Monaco rug.
"I'm in Nevada." It's slurred together, like if he says it fast it'll be forgotten.
"That's strange," comes the reply, "As I specifically arranged for you to be standing in front of me exactly now."
"Meyer, I know you said—"
"Do you think this is easy? I'm in your corner, Benny, I'm fighting for you. How many times have I told you, the house always wins."
"I'm building a house out here! There's real money in this desert, Meyer, I've explained it a thousand times—"
"Yes, to me and Frank, and all of your Hollywood whores too. I am, however, not unaware of the situation you are currently in. The house isn't in Las Vegas, it's with every gangster on the east coast who has paid for it. You're in trouble, Benny. With a lot of people."
"I told you I'd take care of it." His voice is harder now, it has an edge.
"You told me that six months ago."
"It needs time! I'm not running some cheap street cat-house or back alley crap game here Meyer, I'm building a fucking empire!"
Silence on the line. If there's an ocean inside him, it washes back from red to blue; its coldness fills him.
"Charlie isn't happy."
Benny swallows. Dry air breezes through window as his stomach drops. He suddenly feels stupid and small and twelve. Then he feels vicious and angry and unstoppable.
"The fuck's he got to do with this? He's in fucking dago-land. Is he gonna swim here, the prick!?"
Meyer begins to feel numb, it's creeping into his toes and his face and his hand on the telephone. He's as calm as a Sunday morning.
"He fought for you. He begged for you. People are upset."
"So they call him? What about you! What about Frank? He ain't the boss no more."
"He never was."
"Don't bullshit me. How was Cuba? You two have a nice meeting? I bet he's real comfortable over there in wherever-the-fuck, Sicily sitting on his fucking throne."
A slash of emotion rips through him. He remembers another phone call. The last time he had heard Charlie cry they were still kids and he was sorry, sorry, so sorry. Now they were old men and four thousand miles away and I don't want to die here, Meyer.
This is not efficient. He folds his heart away. He returns to the conversation.
"Is that what you want, a throne?"
"I bet I'd look real fucking nice on it." He's grinning, Meyer knows.
"Is that what you are, Benny? A kike fucking emperor?"
"Hey, twenty years and you still won't take the crown, I figure someone's gotta." The mood is cool, it's fine. Benny is smiling in Nevada.
Meyer feels nothing.
"Come by and see me anyway, you kelev."
"Miss me, huh?"
He hangs up the phone in New York City and lights his last cigarette. He thinks about a young, handsome boy who shot at cops in a market place; a stolen apple in one hand and some black pistol in the other. He was wearing the most shit-eating grin Meyer had ever seen.
He'd spent his entire life saving Benny Siegel's life.
He was going to sit this one out.