For one of the first times in his life Judge Helfant didn’t know what to do. Should he go see Stumpy Orman? Should he go to Hap Farley through Mister Kirkman? Or should he go right to the top and arrange for a sit down with Angelo Bruno himself?
Since KYW TV 3 was in Philly, maybe Bruno could push some union buttons or put a call into the station’s owners.
Instead, Helfant decided to call Nucky for some sage advice. Nucky Johnson answered the phone at his Absecon cottege he shared with his wife and long time girl friend. Nucky’s first wife and love of his life had died suddenly only a few years into their marriage, and Nucky stayed single until he was about to go to prison when he married his girl friend so she could visit him while he was incarcerated in federal prison for income tax evasion.
After four years in the joint Nucky got out and decided to retire rather than contest Hap Farley for the job of being boss of Atlantic City again. But Nucky retained his honor and his reputation and even though he was just an ordinary citizen walking down the boardwalk, everyone recognized him dressed nattily in suit and tie and pink carnation in his lapel, and total strangers would come up to him and thank him for some good deed or another he did when he had the power to move mountains.
Nucky also retained his position high among the ranks of the local Republican Party and was given a seat at the head table with all the Big Wiggs at all official functions, so it was natural for Judge Helfant to call on Nucky for advice.
Old now, and not getting around much anymore, Nucky instructed Helfant to pick him up at his front door at 5 pm on Saturday morning, and Helfant was precise in arriving at the appointed time.
Nucky walked out the front door unassisted but with the help of a cane – a dark wood, knot ridden Irish schelleigh, and Helfant opened and closed the passenger door at the curb and hurried around to get in and get going, where ever it was they were going.
“Head north on the Parkway,” was Nucky’s only instructions, as Helfant, turning off the radio, began relaying the roots of his problem with David Brenner and KYW TV3 investigative unit breaking into his office chambers and finding no records of the Midnight Court called him on the phone and threatened him. While they could have arrested Brenner, the mayor decided to let him off the hook if he would lay off the story, and Brenner walked with no promises. The story could bury him, Helfant said.
Nucky was silent as he took all the information and then told Helfant to get off the Parkway and onto Route 9 North at Forked River.
Helfant knew that there was absolutely nothing in Forked River, a barren Piney town where a lot of bodies were buried deep in the woods, and he began to wonder if this was all a set up to kill him, but didn’t verbalize the thought.
“What should I do, Nuck?” Helfant asked, but Nucky remained silent and turned on the radio, “The Budweiser Beachcomer Show.”
After mulling things over, and feeling Helfant get tense, Nucky told the Judge that they were going to visit the Albert brothers at their cabin at Waretown, near Forked River.
Although practically nobody knew it, Nucky Johnson was a Piney at heart, born near Bass River where they were driving past at that moment and only moved to Mays Landing, the county seat, when Nucky’s father was elected sheriff.
Nucky said that he remained friends with the Albert brothers, and visited them on the Saturday before he went to prison, and visited them again on the first Saturday when he got out of the joint, but he hadn’t been to see them in quite awhile.
The judge had never heard of the Albert brothers before and he wondered if they were some kind of hit men and asked Nucky what kind of racket they were in, but Nucky just told him to “wait and see.”
At Nucky’s instructions the judge pulled of Route 9 and went a mile or so down a winding dirt, or rather a white sugar sand road to a little cabin surrounded by a half dozen cars and old pick up trucks, a few people sitting around a fire pit outside.
“Just relax, listen and enjoy yourself for the next hour,” Nucky instructed Helfant, “and I’ll tell you what to do on the way home.”
In the light of the fire pit Helfant could see two wood outhouses out back, and could hear music coming from the open windows of the little house, fiddle and banjo music that got louder as they walked closer, and then suddenly stop when they opened the door and walked in, Nucky hobbling in first and Helftant right behind.
Inside Helfant glanced around at about ten old men, eight of them with some sort of instrument, washboard, spoons or a metal pan used as a drum, and they were all silently looking at them standing at the door.
“Nucky!” the standup bass player said, putting his instrument down and shaking Nucky’s hand and giving him a hug. “It’s soooo good to see you. Been years!”
“This here’s Judge Helfant,” Nucky said, “and Judge, this here’s the Albert brothers and their friends, who come here every Saturday night to jam.”
“And they’re glad to see us because whenever someone new comes in they all stop playing and have a shot of the good suff,” Nucky said, sitting down in a chair next to a small table on which there was a big brown jug and a dozen little sewing thimbles that somebody was filling up with the moonshine from the jug.
Then they started playing again, old Piney blue grass songs so old nobody knew who wrote them, songs about the devil and the crossroads and the same themes the old bluesmen and mountain pickers sing about, and every time somebody came by and joined in they would stop and have a thimble of the clear white stuff that went down too easy. While Nucky had three or four, the judge only had the first one and then laid off, and had to help Nucky out when they decided to leave and give up their seats to some new comers with their axes and picks to play.
They were half way home before the judge asked Nucky once again.
“What shall I do Nuck?”
Nucky Johnson looked straight ahead, and didn’t answer right away, but eventually he said, “Nothing.”
“You do nothing.”
“Don’t talk about it, don’t call Stumpy, Hap or Ang, or you will set forces into motion that you can’t control. Don’t do anything, even if the story airs on TV, by the day after Labor Day everybody will forget about it. So don’t do nothin’ is my advice.”
And then all went quiet for the rest of the ride home until Nucky put on the radio as they headed home and could see across the bay the bright lights of Atlantic City that looked like a string of diamonds and pearls on the horizon.