The big oak desk sat in the middle of the ornate office. The ceiling fretted with golden acorns atop the decorative architrave of finest oak. Rich burgundy curtains came down and widened, for safety reasons, around a huge log fire on the east side. The rest of the room was equally ostentatious and make Michael think about the garish office Tommy and Arthur had. He wondered why people who came from the gutter appeared to have such poor taste when they get rich.
He is poured a whiskey that he did not ask for, and drinks it. He had taken to drinking more in the daytime. Preparing to oust Tommy Shelby is not a task for sobriety.
The sun is starting to shine through the windows. At last, he thought, some fucking sun. Scotland was not a place Michael enjoyed, especially in this place that took a four-hour single-track journey from the main roads, roads that took seven hours by train to reach.
Joseph Kennedy takes a look at his grand-niece’s husband and wonders If he has made the right choice.
‘Thanks for coming in Michael. You get here all right son?’
‘Fine Joe, just fine. Thanks for sending a car, it made it…’
Joe dismisses Michaels obsequiousness with a wave and a noise of derision. Both thanking him and telling him to shut the fuck up. Michael feels an idiot. Joe knows how far it is, he knows he sent a car. He has had this estate since before prohibition. Boring talk about distance is of no consequence.
‘We’re pulling out Michael. No more of this for us.’
It was a sledgehammer to Michaels chest. The feeling when he realised he had lost all of Tommy Shelby’s fortune was a duckwalk compared to this. He had attacked his cousin and was at war. Without Joe Kennedy and his connections he would die. He must stay level though, don’t show rattled.
‘We are going to do great things Joe,’ he says, both reminding Joe and also not actually acknowledging what he said. He needed this guy badly, one of the most powerful and well connected men on earth.
‘It is a bad time Michael. We need to be solid. Luckily, I saw this crash coming, I got out and I have a prospect in the taxi business now to keep income strong. Heroin? Well I see it coming back home; that fucking jazz noise is feeding it. The dark skin poor and the white skin rich dancing like fucking gorillas to the sound of a headache.’
‘We have the chance to run it. Make it respectable. You have to understand Joe we set up clean men, good men, dealing to runners with a setup that ensures no street dealing, a relationship with law enforcement to offer protection so that we keep the best people working for us and not shooting pop-guns with the Purple Gang or Capone.’
Michael noticed that he had no drink left, he was trembling. He had taken opium a few times after nights on cocaine lately, on a couple, a few times, maybe more. It was not that though, it was being shafted by this old coot. You could never believe the officious prick was tits-deep in bootlegging and considered smuggling via Afghanistan! Joe tells him to fill his glass again. Michael walks over to the decanter, without offering his host, pours a heroic sized whiskey into his glass.
‘This is disappointing Joe, preparations have begun in good faith,’
‘I appreciate that Michael and you will not lose out. Your men and you will be given plentiful compensation’
Michael wants to say “Take your payoff and stick it up your arse.” He wants to remind him that the guys he has hired will not accept a payoff. They want the powder money and will not go lightly. He wants to say all of this but knows he cannot.
‘Prohibition will be repealed Joe, you know that; what will you do with these distilleries? Your money from pictures and the yellow cabs won’t make up for that.’
‘I know Michael, I know,’ Joe says staring at his guest with something approaching sympathy,’
‘Heroin will,’ Michael says, trying to be cheeky. Poor choice he realises. Glib is not the right approach when you are on the back foot.
Mr Kennedy leans forward from his chair, wearing a smirk of derision.
‘You are misapprehending me Michael. I am not saying I want to forget the heroin deal. Christ! I have seen how much these pansy he-man actors pay for it on set. I figure if they are doing it whilst I pay them for acting, why don’t I get the money for the powder? Why let money go to the chinks down in Hollywood and that asshole Jack Dragna?’
Michael decided that to speak would be to concede and just looked at Kennedy as if mid-sentence. It showed truly Michael's naivite. If he thought he could out-psyche a Kennedy using speakeasy tricks like that, he was clearly more even arrogant than before.
‘Right,’ Joe said, smirking, amused by Michaels guidebook negotiation tactics, ‘Fact is Mick,' he winced at being called that. He fucking hated it, 'I am moving into real estate. I love this country, England I mean, always have, ask anyone. So I love the idea of a deal here, added value you see. It is a must for any businessman because it’s a dead-cert. Bricks and mortar. The more estate, the more power. If I am going to take on a partner in this, and I need a partner, not an employee, they need to have more to offer. Sorry kid but you don't bring enough to the table. What a business like this needs is someone who has the millions to be able to lose shipments and carrry on. It will take someone who can buy off a senior politician, someone who has the manpower, property, and money to go into hiding when the dagos want their piece of the pie, which sure as shit they will. So in short, not you kid.’
Real estate. Political. Michael knows what is coming. His emotion was now anger, and bemusement at this repulsive old fascist jumping ship and what will most likely happen to him.
‘You’ve talked to fucking Tommy. Fucking TOMMY FUCKING SHELBY! Oh my God! I cannot fucking believe you,’
‘Take caution in your tone young man. You may be family but do not think that buys you a safety jacket.’
Michael shakes his head; he knows the story. Tommy has hamstringed him.
‘Gina was so convinced,’ he says, more to himself than Joe
‘Gina is only convinced of one thing kid, her entitlement,’ he said back, with surprising venom for a person he was so warm to when he saw her, ‘everything else is coincidental with that princess.’
‘What about not wanting to deal with a ‘backstreet razor gang’ as you put it,’ Michael said, flippantly.
‘I put it that way because what I had been told. Now I have been told a few other things. He is an MP, a junior minister, he is a special sergeant, a war-hero who dug fucking tunnels in the shit,’
‘Tommy the war hero slash fucking murderer’ Michael scoffed, 'never a soldier who dined out on his military record as much as Tommy.
Joe ignored him. He didn’t ignore the sweat running down Michael's face. He saw at once he had made the right choice.
‘He is a man with streets worth of domestic real estate, countless business interests, a mammoth charity chest, and a solid home. Add to that he made himself.’
‘Like your children will I suppose?’ Joe ignores this.
‘Michael, you will be safe. No harm will come to you or Gina in any way. You will obviously not earn but I imagine you are well heeled. If you need money you will have to find it yourself. Independently. ’
Michael read the silky threat in the final word of that statement.
‘How do you know I will be safe? Because Tommy fucking Shelby said so I suppose,’
Joe leans to the desk with an elbow rested and a finger pointing at Michael Gray
‘Michael. You told me the Peaky Blinders were a backstreet razor gang. Very simplistic analysis. If I did that in respect of you I would say you are a country fucking bumpkin who lived with mummy number one in a nice village. That is until deserting her to take a job you got through nepotism. Within weeks you are fighting and in jail, you then are tasked with driving two men to do a killing and save a child, you disobeyed the orders, messed up the job and caused six innocent men to be killed. All becase you put your feelings before the job. You were told to use a different gun by a capable soldier and yet you refuse in your bratty way. So you fumble and fuck it up. You are saved from the noose by a man whom you set him up to be killed by that other whiney brat; Changretta. After all this that man then STILL gives you another chance. A wonderful and high paid job in the most exciting city on earth at the head of his outfit which you repay him by ignoring his instructions, piling yourself full of dope and losing his ENTIRE business. Then you try and betray him to filthy proddy scum from Glasgow....DON’T FUCKING INTERRUPT ME… and come protesting your treatment after all you had fucking done. Yet due to another mummy you are given yet another fucking chance. This time he finally washed his hands of you when surprisingly enough. you betray him yet again.
My only worry left with Tommy is why he didn't fucking kill you long ago.'
Michaels face remains impassive as he gulps down half his whiskey in a calculated swig.
‘So let me ask you this Michael. Do I want to do business with a spoiled brat failure thug jailbird with contempt for those who fought for him in the war, who puts drug taking before business and is a serial snake that lets his mommy bail him out?’ Michael finished his drink in one, feeling the warm anaesthetic it gives.
‘You ask about Gina, 'Joe continued, 'she is family so I treat her well but she is a whiny fucking spoiled brat just like you. Now get the fuck out of my office,’
As Michael turns to exit he looks over at Joe, smiling.
‘Joe, have you ever spoken to any of Tommy’s other business partners about him? If you need to I can hire a medium to contact them all.' Without looking up from his writing Joe responds to Michael,
‘Like I said kid, you and Gina are safe, you can stay here as long as is needed and have nothing to worry about. That changes, for you, from this second if you ever speak business to me again.’
‘Fuck you Joe,’ says Michael as he leaves the room. Joe lets him have that one as well. After all, he has just pulled the plug on him and lost him his livelihood and many millions in the future. However, Michael only had men from the Peaky Blinders or Joe himself under him. A wartime gangster who has not insulated himself at all with people loyal to just him? Definitely the wrong man to deal with. That crack about the dead business partners did register but Joe knows they were just simply too big. Shelby finished off that Jew, the laughably ineffective Changretta clan which was no bad thing in Joe's book, and some Capone bookie called Kimber. Small fry really, a Kennedy was a different matter. Just let the gypsy bastard try it. He has a nice house, Joe has thirty. Tommy has Birmingham, Joe has America.
Walking down the ruby coloured walls to the guest rooms Michael stumbles a little, his knees feel weak. Not from fear or anger, it is from understanding the finali and inescapable truth. From knowing Joe has made the right decision and realising for the first time, forever, that Tommy is the better man and the better choice.
He goes back to his room in the far wing of the Kennedy distillery estate to unwrap his heroin and cocaine. Something he will now do pretty much every day for the rest of his life.