BERNIE THE BOOKIE: From The Heart of a Gangster

Marshall Frank

By Marshall Frank

Most people who are introduced to my history as a 30-year law enforcement officer in Miami-Dade, Florida, immediately draw a conclusion that I’m a tough guy.

Not true.

I hate guns. Hate fighting. I was terrible at sports. I’m reluctant to call anyone “Sir,” especially those who had not earned the moniker. My six-year nightmare in the U.S. Marine Corps (reserves and active duty) was an exercise in utter misery. Yet, I was able to fake through it.

When people hear that I authored fifteen published books (fiction and non-fiction) and had over one-thousand op-ed articles published in various newspapers, they draw a conclusion that I’m an intellectual.

But I never ever saw myself as an intellectual.

I do not read for recreation, nor anything I don’t want to read. As a kid, books were a bore. Adults accused me of having “ants in his pants.” I flunked high school English, two years in a row. I did not graduate because I rarely attended classes. My tenth-grade English teacher, a humble old woman, didn’t want to see me flunk so she offered me a special assignment to read any fiction book of my choice and write a report citing story-line, characters, plot and publishing details. A month later, the teacher reminded me that my paper was due the next day. Oy!

I had yet to write one word of the assignment. I had no book. With one day to go, I concocted the false title of a book (that never existed) and wrote a detailed story-line with people and places that never existed and character struggles that were totally fictional. I invented the title as I did the name of the publisher, and of course, the characters.

I got an A plus.

Forty years later, some scientific brainiac labelled a new-found psychological condition which replaced “ants in pants” and now called it, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”

I could not sit still. Neither could I concentrate on classroom learning if it didn’t stimulate. I dreaded boredom.

My mother insisted I learn music, so she bought me a violin. (half-size) She had been a classical pianist as a young girl, but now we were living in a small hotel room on Miami Beach amid the post-war world of thugs and gangsters. No room for a piano. My Italian-born teacher named Atillio Canonico, said I had talent. c. 1947

My mother was also an accomplished dancer. As a twice widowed mother in 1949, she needed a job and began working for a dance studio. As a bonus, I was awarded free lessons. Yes, I learned the art of ballet, tap and Paganini at a young age. My mother had good intentions, but the rough-tough kids in school thought otherwise. At age eleven, I became the repeated subject of a classical bullying campaign. Kids surrounded me in the school yard, chanted dirty names, kicked and punched my face, and took my violin, the case, and my leotard, throwing things in the woods, while I wept.

It was a nightmare.

I pleaded with my mother to let me quit dance school. But I had to continue violin. Apparently, I was lucky to be born with an amazing ear for music.

In 1955, mom remarried her third husband, another former New York gangster known as Bernie the Bookie. He was good to her and to me. What he did in his other life was no business of ours. I was the son he always wished he had. He loved telling me stories, about his friends, Bugsy and Meyer. He’d lay back in his bed, wearing only his underwear, puffing on a cigar despite the oxygen tank on the floor near his bed.

A few years later, at age 20, I knocked up a girl in the back seat of my Pontiac. She was gorgeous. Mom was irate, but we had to get married nevertheless. I needed a regular job, so I asked Bernie if he knew any place where I could play violin in restaurants or maybe, the Miami symphony. That’s when he smirked at me and said, “I’ll tell ya what, kid. You’re gonna be a cop.”

A pall of silence cloaked the room. I was stunned. Bernie smirked, puffing the cigar. He couldn’t get over the startled look on my face.

“Bernie, that’s impossible. I can’t be a cop. Are you kidding? I’ve had some trouble with the law.” (traffic)

“Fuhgettaboutit, kid. You’ll make a good cop. Good pay, good insurance, job security.”

I still had acne pimples. Being a police officer was inconceivable. “Bernie. They’ll never hire me.”

“Yeah they will.”

“How do you know?

Bernie chuckled, like all gangsters chuckle. “Heh. I got connections.”

The rest is history. Of thirty years on the job, sixteen were assigned to Homicide where I rose to the rank of captain. It was important that no one in the department ever knew I had family connections to hard corps mobsters. I worked closely with future Attorney General Janet Reno heading up a most tragic investigation of a black motorcyclist chased down for speeding in the night. When apprehended, the cyclist was beaten and killed by several out-of-control cops. I ended up as arresting officer of five officers. After their acquittal, the Miami riots exploded in May of 1980, leaving 18 innocent people dead.

I was eventually invited to testify before the U.S. Congress in 1980, about crime problems in the United States. I also headed Homicide during the Cocaine Cops investigations, and the arrests of many corrupt officers by federal authorities. Then came the Mariel Boat lift incursion of 125,000 desperate and/or handicapped Cubans fleeing the communist dictatorship headed by Fidel. Bodies were everywhere, every day; car trunks, beaches, Everglades, trash bins and death falls from tall buildings. Miami became the murder capital of the nation, for four years.

Bernie, nor the dirty cops on the job, ever asked me to compromise my position in any legal actions or police issues of any kinds. As far as the department was concerned, I was clean, one of the good guys.

He kept me clean. One day I was chatting with Bernie in his bedroom, as I watched him taking bets on the phone. (Using flash paper…that would vanish by one lit match if the cops raided)

The idea of a little extra money sounded good. “Hey Bernie,” I said. “I know the sporting world, let me make a couple bets on the horses and baseball.”

He turned suddenly sullen. With the cigar gripped in his fingers, he lasered his eyes directly at mine, and took a deep breath. “Let me tell ya something, kid. I do what I do, ’cause I don’t know nuttin’ else. You? You keep your nose clean, and never ask me that question again.”

In March of 1966, while my mother was suffering from brain tumors on the 6th floor of North Miami Hospital, Bernie was dying on the 3rd floor from heart failure. I stood by his bedside and helped him to raise his head, sipping ginger ale from a straw. When I put his glass back on the table, he offered me a blank stare, exhaling his final breath.

I never knew much about his sordid lifestyle from the other side. But I do know I would never have risen to my successes if he hadn’t guided my life.

Thanks, Bernie.

· “Marshall Frank has authored fifteen books, fiction and non-fiction, with more to come. He is probably the most natural crime story writer in the world today.”

— — Christopher Douglas, Author, Publisher, founder of Authorpaedia

An extension of this story is available in Frank’s book of memoirs, From Violins to Violence. Frank can be reached via his web site: www.marshallfrank.com

More details about Marshall Frank at: Marshall Frank — AUTHORPÆDIA

Marshall Frank retired as a 30-year police captain from Miami-Dade, mostly homicides. Author of 15 books. www.marshallfrank.com