Monday, January 7, 2013

That Sink Sleeps With The Fishes

My father got his start in the pharmacy business through a drug store owned by my great-uncle Luther, and it's a miracle he didn't get clipped by a mob lackey working next door.

Main Street Pharmacy occupied what is now a health-food store at 4301 Main near downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Site of the original "Main Street Pharmacy" (Source: Google/Picasa)
Luther ran the place with help from my dad, who was still in pharmacy school. Luther also ran up a considerable amount of debt, an albatross left for us to contend with when Luther suddenly died in December of 1971.

One of his creditors included Kansas City mob godfather Nick Civella. One of Nick's guys owned a pizza joint right across the street. Nick's guy was not exactly an armbreaker, but Civilla used him to launder money.

Not long after Luther passed away, Nick's boy walked into Main Street Pharmacy to settle up. He came alone, not packing heat or henchmen.

"Your Uncle Luther borrowed money from time to time," he informed Dad.

Dad told him the money was tied up in probate, meaning he'd have to wait on the lawyers, but if he brought in "a note," he could help. A note? For a mob money man? Paul's guy walked out without the money, and my Dad remarkably remained alive. I figure Luther's debt was pretty low on the list.

Civella had bigger issues. He was hooked up with the Teamsters to fund Vegas casinos, conveniently skimmed by the goodfellas. As Nicholas Pileggi documents in the book and movie Casino, Civella's organization gave away the skim through FBI wiretaps in another case. Civella, his brother Carl, and six others went to the slammer in 1983.

A few years after Luther's death, Dad got a call from ADT in the wee hours of the morning about a possible break-in. The pharmacy was okay; the pizza joint was in slices, blown apart by an explosion.

Again, Nick's guy came around. "Did you smell any gas?" he asked.

Crews poked through the ashes looking for trouble. Out of the rubble emerged a curious survivor: a stainless steel sink perfect for a large kitchen -- or Dad's darkroom.

The sink easily slid into a corner of the darkroom, right next to a longer grey plastic sink that accommodated four trays for black and white prints: developer, stop bath, fixer and wash. Unlike some of Luther's old possessions, some of which we found stuffed with hidden cash, the sink gave up no secrets.

"You wonder what they washed in there," Mom said.

Note: A previous version of this story unintentionally identified the wrong sink. You're now reading the correct version!

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