This is an alternate universe story. What would happen if our favorite characters had no particular motivation to uphold the law? Or it could be Ben Stone's worst nightmare...
Ben Stone ran through a medley of jazz tunes of his own invention, as he did almost every night while he waited for his singer to show up. Maybe this would be the night that someone would give him his big break, although he rather thought not. No one really seemed to like his music. The only reason he had a job at all was that Big Phil Cerreta, owner of this dive, thought a cabaret act would class the place up. You might as well face it, Stone told himself. You're a washed-up hack piano player who owes his job to a mob underboss.
"You're late, Miss Green," he hissed, as his partner took her accustomed place in the curve of the white grand piano.
"You'd be late too if you had to fill every ketchup bottle in that whole stinking diner," Shambala Green fired back. "Some day I'm going to kill that Van Buren bitch. Just because she owns the place, she thinks she's God's second in command."
Stone glared at her. "I hear Mr. Cerreta is looking for a new barmaid. Want me to recommend you?"
"And have him pinching my butt on a regular basis? No thanks." As Stone turned up the tiny spotlight from his seat at the piano, they both turned to the sparse audience and smiled. Things would pick up later, as the wiseguys began to drift in with their girlfriends. For now, they had a set to get through.
After half an hour or so, Ben decided he'd had enough. "Go get us a drink," he said to Green, switching the spotlight off abruptly.
She stood in front of him expectantly. "What?" Stone asked.
"You know you're not allowed to run a tab anymore. Mr. Cerreta says you're drinking up all his profits."
"'Mr. Cerreta says,'" he mocked. "You sound like a schoolgirl."
"Okay then, Miss Green says she's not getting you a drink unless she sees some cash." She held out her hand, and Stone, giving in, fished in his pocket for a couple of crumpled bills.
"Gin and tonic..."
"...easy on the tonic. I know." Stone played best when he was half in the bag, and after a month at Big Phil's, she no longer wondered why. A couple of drinks blurred everything nicely; you could concentrate on the music and forget who you were performing for.
Paul Robinette was deep in conversation with Claire Kincaid, one of the waitresses. He had Stone's drink ready on the bar, and stopped talking abruptly as Shambala reached for the glass.
"Hey, Paulie," the waitress said. "You better get Benny's money first. You know what Mr. Cerreta told you."
"Don't call me Paulie," he said mechanically.
Green hastily put the money on the bar. "What's going on?" she asked.
"Nothing," Robinette answered, catching Claire's eye to warn her to silence.
Green turned away, disappointed. Something was happening tonight, she was sure of that. There was a tension in the atmosphere she hadn't noticed before. As she walked back to the piano, she heard a snatch of conversation.
"E-liz-a-beth Olivet," Kincaid enunciated. "If I had her money, I wouldn't be caught dead with either of them."
"If you had her money, you might be able to buy yourself a date," Robinette muttered.
"Who's Elizabeth Olivet?" Green asked her partner as she handed him his drink.
He looked at her coldly. "Talking about Mr. Cerreta's problems in Mr. Cerreta's club is not a good idea."
"Problems? Why is she a problem?" As Stone remained silent, she coaxed, "Come on. I'll buy you another drink if you tell me."
Stone had ten dollars to last him till payday. "You didn't hear this from me."
"I swear," Green said, crossing her heart.
"Liz Olivet is someone who's here with someone she shouldn't be here with."
"Look over in the corner." Green followed his glance and saw a dark-haired woman, without the gold chains and big hair that usually marked a mobster's girlfriend, sitting very close to a hawk-nosed man at the corner table. "That's Mike Logan. He's a big noise in the Westies."
"The Irish mob, to you. You don't go from being Big Phil's girlfriend to being Mike Logan's, if you value your life. And you definitely don't let him bring you here, if you value his."
"So why are they here?"
"My guess?" Stone said, setting his empty glass on the piano. "She has so much money, she thinks she can do whatever she wants. He thinks flaunting Big Phil's girlfriend here is a way of proving his manhood. Now where's that drink you promised me?" he ended expectantly.
When Green returned from her second trip to the bar, she asked, "Is there going to be some kind of a rumble, or a showdown, or something? Because if there is, I think I'm going to go work an extra shift for Mrs. Queen Bee Van Buren. I don't need a singing career that bad."
"Nothing's going to happen," Stone said. "Nothing ever happens here. This is Big Phil's club, and Logan knows it. He's probably just here for the entertainment," he added sarcastically.
"Yeah, or to shoot somebody," Green said, reaching for what was left of Stone's drink. "Hey, I paid for it," she responded to his glare.
As Shambala polished off the drink, and Stone swung into one of Big Phil's favorite instrumental numbers, he became aware of a small commotion at the front of the room. Cerreta and another man were making a kind of royal progress through the club. Lennie Briscoe -- with Big Phil? Ben thought. He'd heard that the Irish and Italian mobs were holding low-level talks about getting together to beat the Asian gangs back from their turf, but he'd dismissed the news as rumor. He never thought he'd see the day Briscoe was invited to cross Big Phil's threshold. To see them both heading toward the table where Logan and Olivet were sitting made his stomach tighten. Stone watched intently as, draining his drink, Logan rose to his feet.
"Sit down, son," Cerreta said as he approached. "This is between me and Liz."
At the piano, Green was transfixed. Between numbers, she leaned over to Stone. "'Nothing ever happens here,'" she muttered. "This doesn't look like 'nothing' to me."
"Shut up and keep singing," Stone replied.
Cerreta was almost nose-to-nose with his ex-girlfriend now. It was impossible to hear what they were saying. Suddenly, he straightened and called, "Johnny! Come here. I need you to drive Miss Olivet home," motioning to a rotund man who hastily swallowed the last bite of his cannoli and dusted the sugar off his hands before coming to stand at the table.
"I don't want him," Liz replied sullenly. "I'll call a cab."
"You'll go with Mr. Profaci," Cerreta said in a steely voice. "Get your things."
"Oh, all right," she answered. Olivet knew when it was time to cut her losses. "Bye, Mikey," she said, bending to brush his lips with hers.
By the time Profaci had led his charge to the door, Logan was fully engaged in damage control. "Women, I swear," he said, looking up appealingly at Big Phil. 'I had no idea..."
"Hey. It's okay," Cerreta replied. "You want her? She's yours. But take my advice and don't let her pull that princess crap on you."
"I know what you mean," Logan said, man-to-man. "She was this close to getting a crack in the mouth." But Cerreta and Briscoe had already headed for an out-of-the-way table at the back of the room.
When they were out of Mike's earshot, Briscoe said, "These young guys. They do all their thinking with their other head, you know?"
"Forget about it, Lennie. We have business to discuss."
"No, I mean it. He embarrassed you, and he embarrassed me."
"He needs to be taught a lesson," Cerreta said quietly. "Since you don't want to let it drop."
"I'll take care of it," Briscoe replied.
"No need, no need," Big Phil said. He snapped his fingers, and a pair of no-longer-young men, obviously off-duty cops, approached them. "McCoy, Cragen," he continued, indicating Logan with his head. "That young gentleman has drugs in his possession." He handed the dark-haired officer a small packet. The pair needed no further instruction; approaching Logan, one slipped the packet of cocaine into his pocket, while the other quietly asked him to step outside.
The door was still closing behind them as the sound of a fist connecting with flesh could be heard.
"Not good for business to do it right on your doorstep," Briscoe said thoughtfully to Cerreta.
"Hey, just say no to drugs, Lennie, you know? I gotta send a message to people who bring that business to my club."
"Yeah. You're right," Briscoe said, angrier at Logan than at Cerreta. Anyone who was as stupid as Mike Logan had been that night deserved to have the crap beaten out of him.
From the platform, Ben and Shambala could hear Logan's agonized groans. As Stone hammered the piano keys in a vain effort to drown everything out, and his partner belted out "New York, New York" until she nearly overloaded the microphone, both wished fervently that they were somewhere -- anywhere -- else. But there was no hope of escape, not while Big Phil sat at the back table, chatting with Briscoe as though he had nothing more pressing to do than to have a leisurely dinner and conversation with an old friend.
To make matters worse, there was something going on at the bar that Stone hoped no one else would notice. Claire and Paul had their heads together, and she was telling him something that he quite obviously didn't want to hear. Finally, he nodded and turned away. A few minutes later, Claire simply walked out the front door of the club; as far as Ben could tell, no one paid the least bit of attention.
Claire had no sooner left than all hell broke loose outside. Car tires squealed, followed by the sound of gunfire. Half the room ran to the back exit as the other half pulled out their guns and headed for the front door. Under cover of the rush, Green stopped singing and said, "I'm getting out of here."
"If you go, you'll never come back," Stone responded, never lifting his hands from the keys. "Mr. Cerreta will see to that."
"The hell with Mr. Cerreta, and the hell with you," she said, stepping off the platform and joining the stampede.
Stone felt like the concertmaster on the Titanic. He had a pretty good idea by now what was going on outside, and he hoped that the phone call Claire had asked him to make earlier had done some good. There was nothing he could do now but keep playing and wait.
Cerreta fought his way to the door, Briscoe close behind. What he saw horrified him. Claire Kincaid stood next to one of the dirty cops, holding a police-issue semiautomatic on him. "Where the hell did she hide that?" he muttered, as he took in the rest of the scene. Police cars everywhere, the dark-haired cop's body lying sprawled on the sidewalk, Olivet cradling a badly beaten Logan in her arms, and -- unbelievably -- Big Phil's own driver slapping one of the uniforms on the back and high-fiving another. As the two men gaped, each felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Please, sir, step this way," Big Phil's detective said to him. "You're under arrest."
As he continued his litany, Cerreta interrupted, "You can't do this! Paulie! Call my lawyer!"
"Got it, Mr. Cerreta." Yeah, I'll call your lawyer all right, he thought. From North Carolina. Thanks to Claire's warning, by the time Big Phil realized Robinette was gone, he'd be working at the barbecue joint his uncle owned, way out in the middle of nowhere. And don't call me Paulie, you schmuck.
The detectives led their prisoners away in handcuffs. Passing Profaci, Cerreta lunged at him. "You're gonna have to look behind you for the rest of your life," he spat. "Was it worth it to be a traitor?"
"Threatening a police officer," Claire Kincaid said, amused. "And in front of witnesses." Then she became deadly serious. "Mr. Cerreta," she said, stepping into his path. "If anything ever happens to my partner -- anything at all -- I'm coming after you. Capisce?" she added in a Marlon Brando voice, pinching his cheek hard.
"She threatened me," Big Phil said. "You all heard it. She threatened me."
"Oh, come on, Mr. Cerreta, how can you hear anything with all this commotion?" his captor asked.
"I believe Detective Kincaid was simply expressing her best wishes for his future," the other man said.
Inside Big Phil's club, Stone kept performing to a rapidly emptying room. Finally giving up, he crossed to the bar, from which Robinette had already disappeared, and poured himself a drink. No one seemed to be interested in him, so he sat quietly, lost in thought, until the two undercover detectives came in and stationed themselves one on either side of him.
"Well, it all went off according to plan, Benny," Kincaid said, sitting down and kicking off her shoes.
"Yeah, those scumbags never knew what hit them," Profaci agreed. Just then, the front door swung open again. Liz Olivet was headed in their direction. With Logan's blood spattered over her clothes, she looked vaguely reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy on that day in Dallas, but her attitude was pure Jessica Rabbit.
"Great. Here she comes," Profaci muttered, popping a handful of peanuts into his mouth. "Time for our critique."
When Olivet reached the others, she slithered onto a barstool and removed a long cigarette from a silver case. Stone beat Profaci by a hair for the privilege of lighting it.
"Logan, McCoy, Cragen, Briscoe." Liz counted them off on her fingers as she spoke. "Mikey's in the hospital, where he wouldn't be if you had driven a little slower," she added, glaring at Profaci, who said nothing. "And as for you, Claire, I thought you were a better shot. The idea was to get both cops."
"Cragen dropped his weapon when I shot McCoy. And there were too many people around who would have seen he was unarmed."
"Is he going to say anything?" Olivet asked coldly. "No. He won't live out the night in jail."
"What about Lennie Briscoe?"
"He got the message," Kincaid said. "This is not an Irish neighborhood."
"And Phil?" Liz sounded almost indifferent. "How long before I have to get down on my knees and beg his forgiveness?"
"That shyster Schiff says he can get him out in a couple hours," Profaci replied.
"What about you two? Where do you go now?"
"Back to work, no problem. Thanks to Claire's Oscar-winning performance out there, no one's going to suspect we're on your payroll."
"Good. Good," Olivet said, exhaling a long stream of smoke. "Benny, go play me something."
Obediently, Stone went to the piano and started to play one of his own tunes. Yeah, nothing ever happens here, he said to himself wryly; he and Shambala Green had witnessed a palace coup of which the king was completely unaware, and even Stone, for all his talent at observation, hadn't understood it for what it was until it was spelled out. Elizabeth Olivet, in spite of her finishing-school manner, had dropped her guard enough tonight to reveal herself as the power behind the throne. And Ben knew when it was time to switch his loyalties.
"Not that, Benny," Liz called from the bar. "Something nice." Without conscious thought, Stone slipped into another tune he had played earlier that night, half-humming, half-singing along softly as the words came to him.
...Why haven't you seen it?
I'm all for you, body and soul.