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A Serpent in Naples


Cebra

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PRESTIGE AND OPIUM.

 

TWO MEN FORSAKE PRINCIPLE IN PURSUIT OF THE ALMIGHTY

LEST ANYONE STAND IN THEIR WAY.

 

FROM THE ASHES OF DECLINE:

THE BEST OF AMERICA'S WORST CITY.

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slimeball supreme

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“Your father meant so much to me. To all of us.”

 

His father was laying out in his casket gussied up with make-up and formaldehyde. Lips in a permanent fish-pout, eyes shut and the liver spots painted over. Rose in his suit pocket. Rosary crucifix around the hands.

 

Charming.

 

Sal had his wife jawing off while the priest was talking and he'd promptly told her to shut her mouth, Gioia told him it was rich coming from the same sleazeball’d never shut his f*cking mouth when-- blah blah f*cking blah. Sal tuned it out, walked off mid-sentence and let her keep jawing at the frost and the fog. Screw it.

 

Bad day. Chilled you to your bones and needed gloves, needed coats - would rightly need humility. Sal never cared for humility. Had the camel coat on clashing fierce with the monochrome of everyone else, kept himself to the corner of the funeral procession with the other guys from Atlantic Quays.

 

The other guys.

 

Sal Leone was average - used to work out, hadn’t in a long time and kept to good food that evened things out. Just average. Painted tie and graying hair with the ‘line receding down to the crown, this mad widows peak poking out, a mustache. Stood side by side with good friends; hulking Tony Cipriani, 6’5, barrel chested guy needed a tailor, if not that, the big-and-tall store. Dark-rose jacket and brown shirt and jowls.

 

With Eggy Goterelli. These crazy aviators and this gold around the fingers and the wings in his hair and the cigar in his mouth his wife’d told him not to smoke while the priest was going but like he gave a f*ck what the skank said, he’d been to more wakes than he could think of and he was just killing time before the pasta platter at Momma’s.

 

With Toto Cilli. Not Toto, Sesto, but he thought Toto was funny and the whole thing stuck. Flared collar spread out a quarter-inch, double breasted royal blue jacket, bug eyes and half a monobrow, this knife cut up on the nostril still loose he kept touching.

 

These guys - blue, cream, red, gold.

 

Everyone else - black. White.

 

Four of ‘em and a few others stood out half a distance from the rest where the seats where with their backs near the gravestones and a good view of the whole thing. Good view of Beppe, Beppe Leone, father Beppe, Don Beppe, being lowered deep in the dirt where the worms’d like him nice and warm.

 

Sal and Toto and Tony and all the goddamn others’ kids doing god knows what a little while away. Sal’s brother scowled back.

 

Carmine Leone was younger, but what did it matter? Curled out hair and thin brows and square jaw and this weird bunched chin because he’d keep doing Beppe’s pout. Had his guy Red Meo with the pork pie hat and old Al Zizzo and old Uncle with the spectacles on his sides looking at the casket, but what’d it matter? What did it matter?

 

Carmine woulda thought it wasn’t respectful.

 

Sal thought respect was in surplus.

 

“My father,” Sal said. “Giuseppe was…”

 

He was talking to one of his guys, little guy named Mike with stubble and a bad shirt, usually kept quiet but decided he’d go off now for good measure.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“He preferred boot lickin’ to bank notes. Not much more to say.”

 

“That’s not fair.”

 

Toto shrugged and pulled smoke - “This f*ckin’ business is all about this whole bullsh*t f*ckin’ dicklickin’ thing. That’s it. This,” he gestured out, “is prime f*ckin’ dicklickin’.”

 

Mike shrugged. Tony pat him on the back, nearly knocked the wind out despite himself, but just gave him this look and knew.

 

Tony Cipriani, gentle giant.

 

“This thing a’ ours.”

 

Tomata’ sauce.”

 

In a couple hours, after all this ended, Carmine Leone was gonna get in his car with Al and Uncle and Red, and he was gonna drive outta Staunton Island to the old gentleman’s club in Saint Mark’s. He was gonna speak a lot of Italian, sign a contract that didn’t exist - and alongside consigliere Zizzo and bodyguard Meo and old Uncle Leone from Sicily, he was gonna go from underboss to boss - from Vice President to CEO - of the Leone-Palermo Produce Company.

 

And Sal still a middle manager.

 

Motherf*cking f*cking f*ck it.

 

They’d put Beppe in the dirt and everyone had gone to their cars and Sal was lagging around because Gioia wouldn’t shut her goddamn gob and whenever he tried to wring it out she’d go back on him and tell him he was hardly at the funeral at all and he’d try turning the radio up and she’d throw the dial right back to zero.

 

Joey was in the back seat of the Washington with his feet on the windows and dress pants and a black shirt and black sneakers - or the best in his wardrobe - and after hearing the two go at it for god knows how long on the way to the ferry he just kinda blurted out “We’re goin’ to Momma’s, right?

 

“Momma’s ours or Momma’s Cipriani’s?”

 

“Cipriani’s, no sh*t.”

 

Oh!

 

“Excuse me!”

 

“You don’t talk to your mother like that!”

 

“What, you say that kinda sh*t to--”

 

You don’t f*ckin’ talk like that.

 

“Well look who he’s learned from, Sal. Doting father.”

 

“Go f*ck yourself you f*ckin’ skank.”

 

“There it is! Sicillian f*ckin’ parenting and--”

 

Just kind of went on from there.

 

Through Staunton gridlock and the most inefficient cross-river transit in the country and broken Portland windows and red-and-green banners up Saint Mark’s. Brownstones and backstreets and inclines with the car put-put-putting ‘til they hit the right inclines and the right backstreets and the right brownstones.

 

There were cars outside Momma Cipriani’s.

 

A lot of cars.

 

About a dozen from the old procession stuck around in the already-cramped lot and bleeding out into the street. Almost exclusively imports.

 

Sal turned. “Behave.”

 

Joey rolled eyes.

 

That’s not f*ckin’ behaving.

 

“Okay, okay!”

 

Okay up the concrete-stone-whatever stairs with his wife primping herself up with a pocket mirror and his son half clawing through the pants he was made to wear, okay at the door with Sal breathing in by the banners and the umbrella-clad outdoor tables. A little sign by the door, “Closed for the Wake of Giuseppe Leone”.

 

Could already smell the cholesterol.

 

Door swung open and the place blasted heat and the noise was fickle chatter and the stereo playing classical music. Opera. Sal didn't know and didn't care, f*cking hated that sh*t.

 

Salvatore!

 

“Great pick wit’ the Double Clef, Tony,” Sal beamed. “Love it.”

 

Tony Cipriani with an ill-fitting chef jacket draped atop the suit’s padded shoulders: the man couldn’t look comfortable in human clothes if he tried. “Ah, you know, you know. Was the traffic good?”

 

“F*ckin’ tedious.”

 

“Eh, that's Staunton.”

 

Carmine wanted the wake elsewhere, but those complaints were made a long time ago when he wasn't gonna be boss and he didn't get everything he wanted. Beppe overruled on his deathbed, said the food was better than whatever piss poor Italian joint in Fort Staunton you’d get otherwise - real authentic family sh*t versus some Well Stacked slices. Funny how his priorities were while the tumors grew in his throat.

 

But real authentic Italian sh*t it was - Sal watched over Tony’s shoulder as the porter crew flew out the kitchen, headed to the buffet line with steaming bowls of fettuccine and linguine in white sauces, calamari platters and chicken parmesan and eggplant in various stages of presentation; the works thrust into warming tray after warming tray as the guests stood by impatient. 

 

The mourners had brought appetites.

 

“There’s a f*ckin’ buffet line?”

 

Tony looked back, back and around again and paid the question a lot more mind than it deserved. “Uh, yeah. Yeah I think uh, I think Sandra told you that would be, y’know, the most efficient way of goin’ about it. Lets the kids run around a bit and--”

 

“It’s undignified.”

 

Tony stared.

 

Gioia put her hand on her husband’s neck, probably asked a bit more terse than she wanted, “You want me to fix you a plate?”

 

“Yeah, whatever.”

 

Big smile on her face, she turned to Tony - pocket mirror missed the lipstick on her front teeth. “You got any a’ those zucchini flowers he likes so much?”

 

“Nah, uh, those’re outta season.”

 

She left anyway, grabbed a hot plate by the line and something sparkly in a tall glass offered by a waiter.

 

“How you feelin’, Sal?”

 

“Never better. Can we siddown somewhere? This draft’s making my balls ache.”

 

“I’m always sayin’ that.” 

 

Pair started walking through, away from the door that kept opening and flooding with new arrivals, letting the frigid air sift into grease-laden humidity and the chemical smell of two dozen suits that just got dry-cleaned yesterday. Sal took off his gloves.

 

He really got an eyeful. 

 

Dozens of packed tables in diagonals, white tablecloth and candles not yet lit and centerpieces - more white, chrysanthemums in an inch of water wavering in the slipstream of mourners running to their tables with overflowing plates of pasta. Full blown murmur and laughter over the cello playing on speakers, pairs and groups alike already wine-drunk and one in particular - not a table but a green felt booth in the corner, Carmine Leone holding crony court; Al Zizzo and a hatless Red Meo with three bottles of red on the wood. They’d been here what, a half hour?


Carmine never could help himself from a Valpolicella. His boys could never turn it down one glass at a time.

 

Sal looked, looked away. He and Tony were at a booth too, opposite corners of the room under an oil painting, some horses and carts and dirt roads and cypress trees thing that fell off a truck fifteen or twenty years back.

 

They sat opposite each other, waiter brought them house red before Sal put his gloves down. Tony kept to the edge, eyes to the kitchen through the round windows.

 

Sal stretched, scratched an eyebrow. “Didn’t mean that about the dignity of this thing, what do I give a sh*t? Your wife’s a great cook, Anthony. And you’re not so bad yourself.”

 

“Ah, don’t worry about it.”

 

“You got a good woman there, dutiful wife, mother. Meanwhile it’s f*ckin’ Joy, I’m tellin’ you, the woman’s got me cursed. Can’t get rid of this bad energy whenever she’s within fifty feet of me.”

 

“You married a Siciliana, Salvatore, breaking balls gotta come with the territory, huh?”

 

Siciliana my ass, the spoiled brat’s never left the goddamn state. I dunno if she’s even left the city, sure as hell ain’t been with me,” raised his tone enough for her to maybe-hear, “I’d pitch the f*ckin’ car off a cliff five minutes into a road trip with her, God help me.”

 

Tony’s eyes were wandering. “Hey, where’s Joey?”

 

“Ah, sh*t.”

 

Forgot Joey. 

 

Scanned the room. Probably would’ve broken off from his parents anyway, Gioia now mingling with the other fake-nailed hairspray-clouded leopard print wives, but he’d found himself in the company of Toni and some other kid away from the adults, they’d found themselves in the company of one of those cassette music player f*cking things.

 

Fine.

 

Sal leaned back in the seat. “Real handsome kid you got, Anthony. Good boy, too, never seen him give lip.” Saw the smartwear: Toni in a tailored tux, slim fit against Joey’s God just put some clean f*cking clothes on Jesus Christ dress shirt, Zip pants. “Knows how to dress, knows how to act. You done good.”

 

“Takes after his ma.”

 

“He’ll be a fine man.”

 

“I hope so.”

 

Fine man.”

 

Blunt silence a moment with the wine, Sal’s eyes on the teens. Halfway to manhood but boys all the same, was Gioia's coddling. She was too easy on him, or that's what Sal thought. Let him off for troublemaking, wouldn't give him a goddamn smack like she should. Toni all sullen and Joey jittery, couldn't sit still. Sighed, sipped, still felt sober. Looked back at Tony edging half off the seat pitter-pattering the table.

 

“Hell are we doin’, Tone?”

 

Eyes snapped back, “What?”

 

“It's this… all this f*ckin’ thing. Laurel wreath bullsh*t. That f*cking roach.”

 

Blink. “What?”

 

“You know what my brother’s doin’ over there?”

 

“I didn’t see him.”

 

“He’s got Al and that f*cking lughead f*cking prick--”

 

“Russo?”

 

“--I don’t f*cking know, porkpie f*cking idiot, and they’re acting like it’s supreme court a’ some sh*t. Jesters, the lot a’ them.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m runnin’ wit’ the medieval thing.”

 

“Supreme Court ain’t medieval.”

 

More like f*ckin’ clowns, eh?” Neck on a swivel, sharp turn behind them. Eggy Goterelli with his coat off showing off the middle-age-gut and the suspenders, threw a plate down with assorted Italian and let the pasta and the glasses wobble on rickety table. “Great f*ckin’ food, Anthony.”

 

“Watch the f*ck out, you nearly got wine all ova’ the tablecloth.”

 

Tony all coy, “Thank you, Egidio.”

 

“This gravy, madon’. How she make this sh*t?”

 

“Believe me, thank Sandra, and she--”

 

“Youse was talkin’ about Carmine, right?”

 

“Yeah, Eggy, say it a little louder,” Sal hissed. “Let him hear it.”

 

“Sal, I gotta-” Tony got up, dusted himself off. “I’m sorry, but- y’know, Sandra, she’s--”

 

“You need’a go, you need’a go.”

 

“Yeah,” Eggy went. “You need to go, you need to go. You know.”

 

Gave a bewildered look at Eggy before just turning tail and leaving. Just him and Sal now, Tony’s glass still standing half drank. Egg shifted, took a sip out of his glass, “Carmine, then.”

 

“You know where Toto is?”

 

“Somewheres.”

 

“I f*ckin’ figured.”

 

“I said my blessings to ‘im.”

 

“To Toto?”

 

“No. Carmine.”

 

Sal snarled, “Don’t say a f*ckin’ word to him.”

 

“He’s boss in two hours tops. I’m payin’ respects. I don’t like the guy and he don’t like none a’ us, but it’s tradition. These is the rules.”

 

None a’ us: the boys from Atlantic Quays were blue collar as blue collar came. Carmine weren’t. Carmine worked white-collar union rackets and milked construction, dined with politicians and squared things straight. Put the right bills in the right pockets. Didn’t matter if Sal was the one who did the upkeep, made sure the right people didn’t say what, if he was the one who moved the shipments and sold the ‘tomatoes’ on the street.

 

“F*ck the rules.”

 

“That’s what this is.”

 

“This ain’t that. This is--”

 

Clink clink clink.

 

Halfway across the room.

 

Carmine stood up. Doing that fishlip-Mussolini face and holding up champagne. Close to a smirk as he could get. Meo adjusted in his seat, pulled his jacket back, pulled his suspenders back, this close to standing up with him but relenting last second.

 

“I’d like a word,” Carmine said.

 

You got da’ floor!” some schmuck shouted somewhere, scattered a few laughs.

 

Carmine did this polite half-chuckle like he was hiding a cough, refixed his position. “We laugh tonight. We do, and laughter is part a’ the grieving process. We gotta remember the good times, you know, especially now. Especially through all this turmoil and this struggle.”

 

Mister f*ckin’ orator. Carmine must’ve caught Sal’s glare. Paused. Looked back with empty eyes like he didn’t give a f*ck.

 

Sure.

 

A crowd of these guys from Saint Mark’s, the guys Carmine hung tight to, they were gathering up and around and heading the room, chests puffed and chins held high and glasses the same in memoriam. “My father, Giuseppe, was a great man,” Carmine said. “He came to this country penniless. He did. We was nothing, we had nothing. He…” trailed off. This theatric sigh, cleared his throat.

 

Sal swore he grinned at him behind the hand.

 

“He was a hard worker. He was forward thinking. He was an inspiration. Many of us might think of tonight as a time for mourning-”

 

Sal felt a pat on the back, craned neck. Toto grinning. “Questa stronzata, huh?

 

Got a chuckle back. “Siddown, Ses’.

 

“-celebration of his life, of what he wanted for all of us. For unity,” Carmine shot a glance at Sal. “For peace. Ending bickering and ending bullying and fighting and just… family. Famiglia.

 

Famiglia.

 

Carmine raised his glass. “A toast,” he said. “To Beppe Leone.”

 

Salut!

 

Salut.

 

“Salut.”

 

The room was split in half. These guys, all these guys in black and white to the north; around Carmine and around Zizzo, the lackeys. 

 

They stood. 

 

Sal sat. Some of his men didn’t. Harwood, Atlantic Quays, Trenton - they were colorful men who all wore it. Toto and Eggy and Salvatore. They didn’t sit.

 

Sal smiled a toothless smile. He raised his glass.

 

Salut,” he said.

Edited by slimeball supreme

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“I'm entrusting you with a responsibility like no other, son.”

 

“Yes, pa.”

 

“I believe you capable, my boy. Others might not.”

 

“Others don’t know me.”

 

Cesare laughed. “I think so.”

 

Marco and Giorgio were holding one of the guys down by the arms while he was kicking his legs and spitting and snapping his jaw. Well, not his legs - one leg. The free leg, the one that Mikey didn’t have under his boot on the verge of snapping.

 

The fellas were dressed in leathers or casuals; Marco in a green-and-yellow pattern sweater, Giorgio or Georgie or Jojo or whatever he wanted to be called in this leather jacket too big for his arms with the cuffs drooping, Fat Mikey in a seam-splitting tucked tight cardigan.

 

Sonny Forelli had unbuttoned his cream double breasted jacket and let it hang loose. Sonny Forelli had this ornate crimson silk shirt with this flared out collar and these pretty patterns dotting down, top to bottom. Sonny Forelli had these white loafers on that made him step extra delicate so they didn’t get dirty.

 

Sonny Forelli brought the flat end of the crowbar straight into the poor guy’s knee.

 

The poor guy screamed.

 

“Ay, woah! I think we’re drawin’ blood here, Sonny!”

 

“Ey, motherf*cker! Motherf*cker, ey!”

 

Guy kept screaming.

 

Giorgio, “Shut the f*ck up!”

 

“Shut the f*ck up, eggplant.”

 

Guy on the floor grit his teeth, kept breathing through them deep-like. “F*ck you f*cking wop f*cking f*ck f*ck f*cking guido--”

 

“Buddy, buddy!” Sonny knelt down. “What’s got you down, huh? We’re just talkin’! We’re just f*ckin’ gentlemen!”

 

They’d emptied out one of the private rooms at Ristorante Ecoli and lit up the table with a candle and dimmed the lights for a reason Sonny couldn’t discern. The place, the restaurant, was sacred. Men got made here. Sonny got made here a year ago. This arcane place which stood at the tip of Staunton Island like a castle.

 

Cesare Forelli had sunken cheeks. Brown pleated jacket. Wispy hair and black around thin eyes and bushy brows. Underboss was present; Cheem Basto with wax face and sweat beads like he was always f*cking hot.

 

Coincidence: it was very hot.

 

“Do you understand,” Cesare said, “the weight of the responsibility bestowed on you?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“The rules of which you must abide?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“No drugs? Respect? No undue violence or attention or none a’ that? That kinda bullsh*t?”

 

“Pa,” Sonny clasped Cesare’s hands on the table, held tight. “Believe me. You won’t regret this.”

 

“These monkeys is cute, Sonny.”

 

“Y’hear that?” Sonny slapped hostage. “Mikey thinks youse is funny.”

 

“I said cute, not funny.”

 

“See, you fellas is cute because you won’t listen to simple instructions. We tell you to sit still and you don’t.”

 

“F*ck you…”

 

“And youse is funny,” Sonny went on, “because you think you can deal on patches you’ve been told you don’t run.”

 

“F*ck you, wop.”

 

“Precious.”

 

This wasn’t the only drug dealer they’d strung up. In the alley, right up in Aspatria, there were two other goons. All three were black guys, all three were early, mid-twenties at the biggest stretch. All jumpy young kids in their own leathers, with scruffy facial hair and frizzy ‘fros and heroin.

 

Too much heroin. Here, any heroin was too much heroin.

 

The one Mike had a foot on was called Domino. Their ‘pet moolie’ in Hepburn Heights, as Franco called him, said his real name was Cornelius.

 

Speaking of Franco, he’d put a foot and the crowbar in one of the other guy’s faces a long time ago. Him and Tommy were holding down the third on the trunk of their Oceanic.

 

“What did Levin tell you?”

 

“Levin don’t mean sh*t. That’s why he’s talking to-- auugugh!”

 

Mike kept twisting the boot into the open wound. “You ni**ers ain’t f*ckin’ polite, is you.”

 

Sonny kept it slow, “No dealin’ on Levin’s, on our, f*ckin’ patch.”

 

“F*ck you!”

 

Sonny reeled back, braced, and punted Domino in the chin. Bloodspit saliva flew. “Take care of moolie here,” turned tail and f*cked off to the car.

 

Domino wasn’t the leader but he was the biggest. Biggest boy was named Dicky, Benedict. Biggest boy purely symbolic - he had spectacles Tommy had crunched under bootheel a long time ago. Scrawny arms and a garish button-down.

 

Sonny approached.

 

Smacked Dicky in the head.

 

“Tommy,” Sonny said.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“How’s he holding?”

 

“I’m about ready to cut this prick loose.”

 

Sonny did his best imitation of someone with charm - “You must’a really ticked pretty-boy off.”

 

Eyes locked. Cesare warmed. “You are young, Santino.”

 

Cheem cut, “We got a dozen f*ckin’ capable men. Fi’ty.”

 

“I’m better than all of them,” Sonny said.

 

“You ain’t no rule breaker?”

 

“Never, Cosimo.”

 

“You think being capo is a f*ckin’ joke, Sonny?”

 

“You need…” Cesare struggled for words. “Benevolence. You cannot seek war, you must seek peace. This duty, captain… and you were made--”

 

“I don’t deal. I don’t kill ‘less they ask for it, ‘less I get your permission. I’m respectful. I’m loyal. I earn good. I don’t know what to tell you. Dad, pa, I f*ckin’ got this.”

 

Cesare nodded. “Brash way of putting it.”

 

“This thing of ours,” Sonny said, “is about family. It’s responsibility. Responsibility I can bear! You make me capo now, I’ll do a better job running any crew than Nelly ever did. Believe me.”

 

Tommy Vercetti was tall, guinea handsome. Dark hair and dark tan t-shirt with blue jeans, gold crucifix chain. Franco Forelli was a greasy f*cker with a huge schnozz and nowhere hairline he still kept to combing.

 

“We killin’ this f*ckin’ prick?”

 

“Is eggplant over there dead?”

 

Quick glance. The guy who got brained was still leaking on the floor.

 

“I dunno.”

 

“Like the papers is gonna get mad over a couple a’ dead ni**ers.”

 

“Levin will,” Sonny said.

 

This conversation was going down on top of the relaxing, harmonious wails of a captive struggling under the grip of two guineas. “Let me go let me go let me motherf*cking go let me go!”

 

Franco ignored, “This is getting--,” grunt, guy moved, “--getting f*cking irritating. The coons should be doin’ this sh*t, not us.”

 

Tommy took initiative, “You stayin’ outta Hepburn?”

 

“I go down there to f*ck your mother greaseball f*cking--” Franco clipped him on the head with an elbow.

 

“Be nice, spooky.”

 

Tommy just sighed.

 

Sonny thought a moment. Thought hard. Looked back at Mike putting a boot into Domino’s knee again. Gears turned in his head.

 

“Tommy.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Him,” pointed back, “or him?”

 

Nelly was in prison. Nelly ran one of the gruntwork blue collar crews, ran books, ran card games. Beat people. Killed people. He was capo. He was Cesare’s brother in law. And he was a f*cking idiot. They’d pulled strings, got the guy 5 instead of 25, but it wasn’t a sure thing if he was getting out at all.

 

Sonny was now acting capo.

 

He got hugged. Got a hug from Cheem, got a hug and a pat on the back from his pops, got a couple congratulations from some of the wiseguys in the front. Some didn’t. Some thought it was nepotism or a bad choice or blah blah blah, waste of time.

 

Cesare got the champagne.

 

There was a moment of celebration where all the guys gathered around and had their saluts and pat Sonny on the back, but Cesare wanted privacy.

 

What Ceez wants, Ceez gets.

 

An empty booth near the back of the restaurant with the champagne to themselves. Father and son.

 

“My boy,” Cesare said. Ruffled Sonny’s hair, laughed. “Oh, my boy.”

 

“Thank you, pa.”

 

“Family is more important than anything else, Sonny. Remember that. You’re my boy.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I would’ve made one of my sons capo, no matter what. You know that, Sonny. But you… it does not matter if you’re not the eldest. You’re the most capable. Marco… he is a good boy. But a leader, no. Franco, no. You of all your brothers…”

 

“Thank you, pa.”

 

“Family, my son. Family is all that counts. Nelly was not family, and look what happened.”

 

The feeling sank in. That knowledge you’re worth less than your blood. “Yes, pa.”

 

“Family.”

 

“It’s all that counts,” Sonny said. “All you can trust.”


“The f*ckin’ ferry, man.”

 

Sonny peeled off the main trio - Marky, Frankie, Tommy. Piled into the Oceanic, pulled outta’ Staunton and let Giorgio and Mike dodder back to Little Italy. Guys all in the midst of recovery, cracking knuckles and taking breaths and rubbing sweat. The Forelli Brothers Three, sans their fourth and their cousin.

 

“Think I scuffed my shoes,” Sonny groaned.

 

“Scuffin’ shoe on jigaboo,” Franco sang.

 

He was driving.

 

“We just messed some guys and your mind’s on the shoes?”

 

“They're expensive f*ckin’ shoes, Tommy.”

 

“Tommy,” Marky added, “they're Italian suede.”

 

“You brought Italian suede to rough up some guys. Come on.”

 

“He's got a point,” Frankie said. “You shouldn't a’ wasted good shoes on some uptown moolies.”

 

“That's not what I meant--”

 

“Then what'd you mean Tommy?”

 

Blink. “I--”

 

“You ain't tellin’ me you like ‘em?”

 

“They ain't half bad.”

 

“They're f*ckin’ animals,” Franco went. “I'd put ‘em in chairs I could.”

 

“C’mon.”

 

“They f*ck like rabbits,” Frank sighed. “Lotta’ them is rapist-birthin’ machines, all they do is f*ck f*ck f*ck. I ain't losin’ sleep over no dead ni**ers. You give them a f*ckin’ hand, they bite--.”

 

“Frank.”

 

“--you give ‘em food they'll sell it for a quick buck! Human f*ckin’ garbage.”

 

“You're a scumbag, Frank.”

 

“Like youse is so much better, Tom. Catholic goddamn guilt over here.”

 

“Screw you.”

 

“Can't say f*ck, Tommy boy?”

 

Marco chimed in, “No-swear-Tommy don't f*ckin’ cuss none.”

 

“Your daddy gonna hit you you don't say you wanna suck moolie cock? You wanna suck moolie cock, Tommy?”

 

Tommy didn't say anything. Sonny looked, saw him seething, red faced.

 

Franco didn't stop. “And then you got these ni**ers in black leather, these f*ckin’ commies, and what, they ain't terrorists? Technicalities and f*cking laws and all this bullsh*t. They got it great. Get handouts from the government so they can rob ya’ and kill ya’. You wanna go help ni**ers, be my guest, but I say put them and their f*cking kids--”

 

Sonny put his hand on Franco’s shoulder. “Frank.”

 

“What?”

 

“Stop.”

 

“You sidin’ with him now?”

 

“I'm sidin’ with the one that ain’t gonna blow this deal. Or get our necks cut.”

 

“I can take ‘em.”

 

“I ain't. Don't screw this. We go in there you start pulling this sh*t, you think Levin's buying?”

 

Frank just snorted.

 

“If there's one thing the mulignans know best,” Marco said, “it's movin’ weight.”

 

“I get it, I get it. Madon’. None a’ them in the car now, is there?”

 

There weren't, but they weren't too far.

 

Hepburn Heights had been, at one point, been mostly Jewish. That was a long time ago, 1920’s long time ago, then the jobs cleared out along with the white people and the factories, the housing projects dwindled and redlining set in. It was largely minority now, mostly Latino and black. No home loans and no healthcare coverage and no nothing. Thugs on the streets always giving whitey bad looks.

 

Under Rothwell Station there were a couple stores. Bodegas, take-out joints, barbers.

 

One barber stood out.

 

Car drove into the alley behind the stores, rolled up nearby the rear exits and made sure to check the address number above the doors.

 

Sonny, “Stop.”

 

Franco, “We here?”

 

Marco, “We here.”

 

It wasn’t Levin’s headquarters but he ran stuff out the shop - a little small time bookies, betting on football and boxing and whatnot. Clean Cuts, name nothing fancy but it didn’t have to be.

 

Oceanic stopped. Sonny got out, put up two fingers as a signal, approached the door.

 

Knock, knock, knock. Pause. Knock.

 

Door-slat flipped open - eyes on Sonny. A nod. Slat shut.

 

Sonny turned, the guys already out the car. “You guys behave,” got nods and groans from the fellas who crossed arms and tried to look tough. Got Sonny toe-tapping, waiting.

 

Door opened.

 

Levin was tall, moustache and mutton-chops and half-rough afro. Chinchilla jacket over a white turtleneck, black slacks. In his stead, some big f*cker in a mustard sweater with the pectorals peaking out, no hair aside from the eyebrows. Levin paused, lips curled, looked Sonny down. “Nice get-up, ‘sides the red.”

 

“Think that means we did what we needed to do.”

 

“Blood could entail a lotta’ things, my man. Got kids ‘round the block would rough theyselves up, say they did the job, get paid, and the guys’d still be on my patches. Scratchless.”

 

“‘S’what you get when you dealin’ with children.”

 

“Weren’t much older than you.”

 

Sonny snorted, smoothed his hair, “We got proof.”

 

“You said that. Blood.”

 

“Somethin’ a little less… euh, fakeable. You know.”

 

“Oh, to take the word of a brother such as myself. It is duly appreciated, Sonny. My ‘pinion, a lot can or cannot be fabricated; but I’d like to see you try.”

 

“Yeah, whatever.”

 

Levin snickered. “That was me askin’ you to show me.”

 

Paused. “Right. Yea’. Come on.”

 

They turned, went down the alley, past the guys leaning on the car. Markie and Frankie giving these looks, these pissed off looks. Frankie by the rear of the car with his hand on the hood like he didn’t want to lose it.

 

“Tommy, you take care a’ the package?”

 

“Hey, as much as I could. Heavy as hell.”

 

Levin smiled. “I have a feeling I know what this’ll be.”

 

Three were at the back now, Frankie on the whip still leaning. Looked at Sonny, blew out the nose, got off.

 

“Moses, check the trunk.”

 

Baldy nodded, moved for it. Was reaching when Frankie put his hands up, too close for comfort, “Watch it, tough guy.”

 

“Watch him, tough guy,” Levin went, wry as he could.

 

Moses chuckled. Franco fumed.

 

Trunk sprang open.

 

Sonny had always said that you gotta keep some rugs in the back just in case. Today was just in case. Dicky rolled up in what looked like burlap with about a dozen bruises and cuts and all kinds of red leaking out. Luckily, none of that was gonna was gonna ruin the interior. Just needed to replace the burlap.

 

“The other two?”

 

“Both went bye-bye, Levin.”

 

“Charmin’ as ever. Not what I wanted, but you got it done. He dead?”

 

“Nope. You can wake him if you want.”

 

Levin snickered again, “Sure. Moses.”

 

Moses nodded. Clapped the kid’s ears ‘til he jolted - “Huh?! Huh?!?! What?! Huh?!”

 

“Brother, brother.”

 

“Guinea f*cks! Guinea wop f*cks!”

 

“Settle down, settle down. It’s your good friend Levin.”

 

“My f*ckin’ arms, man, my f*ckin’ arms!”

 

“Shhh…” Put his finger right up to the lips. “Quiet.”

 

Dicky had these bugged out eyes, didn’t help he needed glasses. Blind. Was shaking - shaking outta pain, or something else.

 

“Told you you’d get along,” Sonny said.

 

“That’s sweet. You enjoy yourself with my associates?”

 

“Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom.”

 

Levin turned to Sonny. “He has no idea how much that hurts.”

 

Got Moses laughing again.

 

“Train’s due now, ain’t it, Sonny?”

 

“I don’t take the train.”

 

“I know what time the train comes. You can hear it on the rails a mile away. City’s gotta fix the cars.”

 

“City can’t fix a broken pipe. City can’t build a tunnel. You think they can fix a train?”

 

Levin smiled. “I have faith.”

 

This uncomfortable pause. Levin reached for his pockets, dipped his hand into the jacket.

 

Pulled out a .357. Sonny whistled, “That is a piece.”

 

“You hear that?”

 

He did. He heard train grinding on the elevated tracks. Getting nearer.

 

Nearer.

 

“Goodnight, Dicky.”

 

Nearer.

 

Near.

 

Bang.

 

Train slowed. It was like the shot never happened. Smoke rose. Train went quiet.

 

The gun was back in the jacket. A hole was in Dicky’s head.

 

“Moses, would you mind disposing of our friend?”

 

Moses nodded, went for the door, but got stopped: hand on his shoulder. “Gorilla don’t touch my f*ckin’ whip.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“It’s okay, Moses,” Levin said. “Franco, I’m sure you and my friend here are open to doing the job.”

 

Frank shot a look at Sonny. Sonny shrugged.

 

“Sure,” Frank said. “Okay.”

 

Franco clopped off, went to the car-door with these shadows under the eyes and his hands to himself, brushed past Tommy on the way giving him a look. Sonny just stared, the staring interrupted.

 

Levin pat him on the shoulder. “I got someone you might wanna meet.”

 

Back room of the barber was fitted out with a couple TVs, all off. A lot of papers and a lot of notebooks and clipboards, big table in the middle. A bunch of Levin’s goons, would be taking score. But no games on means no games are on. Levin lead him and Marco and Tommy inside, got the other two comfortable. Offered refreshments - “We got waters, soda, that kinda sh*t.” Tommy said sure, Marco said no.

 

Among the black guys, there were two more whites. A little older than Sonny, but not by much - this one guy in a half decent suit with a chain around the neck. A mustache, slicked back hair. Other guy had stubble, oily hair, leather jacket.

 

“You’re Neapolitan, right, Sonny?”

 

“Yeah. Naples, Genoa, whateva’. That’s us Forellis.”

 

“Right. These two are Sicillian.”

 

Sonny looked ‘em up, looked ‘em down. “Familiar.”

 

“Should be,” went mustache.

 

Levin kept smiling that same old smile, “He,” he said, pointing to clean shaven, “is Ennio. Earl.”

 

Earl nodded, “Eitha’, or.” Offered a hand, Sonny shook.

 

“And he,” Levin moved onto mustache, “is Salvatore. Leones.”

 

Sonny looked. Weary. Salvatore did the same, sized him up.

 

Offered his hand.

 

Sonny paused.

 

He shook.

 

“Giuseppe’s son?”

 

“Hell ta’ Giuseppe.” Salvatore grinned. “That bullsh*t… it don’t come here.”

 

Sonny grinned back.

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Mayor Walnut denied allegations that recent relaxations on environmental regulation had any relation to illicit campaign funds; accusations that

 

“Hey, turn it up, Mikey.”

 

Guys were at the table slapping cards with WLCN on the radio and smog-laden sunlight streaming in from these frosted windows with metal bars on the outside. The glass used to be broken, some punk threw a brick in and scared the sh*t outta the day cleaner. Said it looked like a Puerto Rican or something. Wasn’t nobody serious.

 

Typical.

 

Sal had a box of Cohibas. He didn’t play. He talked, he listened, he smoked, but he didn’t play, sat alone at this little table under the windows.

 

“This sh*t, Sal?”

 

“What? I wanna hear it.”

 

“What the f*ck is Tweed f*ckin’ Walnut gonna say about f*ckin’ what?”

 

“Environment regulations, Toto.”

 

not a fan of federal overreach,’ he told reporters. ‘The EPA putting their foot down in the great City of Liberty, in the great state of Delaware… I won't stand for it. I agree with President Reagan on many things

 

“It’s the EPA,” Toto said.

 

“I know.”

 

“So you know, you know, but you wanna hear the sh*t anyway?”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“Why?”

 

Sal picked and snipped a cigar from the box, took his sweet time of it—guillotine on the wood, struck the match, let the smoke waft a moment. Whatever card game the rest were playing left kinda hanging in the air.

 

“Toto, imagine I was gonna say something like, I dunno,” puffing away, “‘Criminogenic regulatory behaviors’—I said that, alright, would you know what I was sayin’?”

 

Words hung with the smoke. “Nah.”

 

“Then God willing, shut the f*ck up and lemme listen to the mayor, huh? Ignert’ f*ck.

 

Boys laughed. Started with Eggy, this throaty hyena screech but deeper that always made Sal cringe, then Mike, then that little sh*t Dukey Cippolini, Dukey in the mauve tracksuit, Dukey with the watch clasped too loose kept banging on the wood.

 

Toto laughed last.

 

“—we need more innovation, more protection for the industrialists who helped build this country, who are the backbone of this country. That's why they closed shop, the government kept pushing ‘til their backs broke.”

 

Card game was back in play, Eggy piped up: “Yinz heard a’ that goddamn thing with the sh*t washing up in Wichita Gardens? Almost lost my breakfast this mornin’, I read that.”

 

Duke took his cue. “Really makes you think—you’re sittin’ on the can with the funnies, you got your mug a’ coffee on the tile, right, and you hear,” peppered with chuckles, “you hear this f*ckin’ rumbling, right? And maybe you thinks it’s your gut, I dunno, but before you know it you’re hittin’ your head on the motherf*cking ceiling ‘cause the sh*t an’ piss of ten thousand people’s gone barreling up your ass.”

 

And he fell into conniptions, Eggy full smirks, Toto with this f*cking mug on.

 

“f*cked up, huh?”

 

Mike shared half the mug. “Disgustin’. But you know, waste. Hell if that ain’t our bread and butter, right?”

 

“Waste, not sh*t, Mikey. We ain’t in the sh*t business,” Sal said. “Carting ain’t the sh*t business. I ain’t consulting on which river’s best to toss the human waste in, am I?”

 

Was it rhetorical? Probably. Mike took it that way, kept shut as per.

 

Eggy made his snip, “Nah, that’s just asbestos.”

 

“Eh, Sal,” Toto went, “You uh, you spoke to Carmine about that sanitation thing? The contracts?”

 

Sal locked eyes — “No.”

 

“Youse spoken to Carmine at all?”

 

“No. I ain’t.”

 

Moment passed.

 

“Sanitation though? I been meaning to ask, since f*ckin’ when is that Carmine’s lip?” Eggy asked—interjected, really.

 

Shouldn’t have. Sal soured, words came out with tongue at the tip of his teeth. “I ain’t gonna talk about that right now.”

 

Card game went on a bit, Sal flipped through Liberty Tree and the sun cast its glare past the table he was at and onto the mahogany bar down the room nobody was at. Light filtered through rum and anisette and grappa, some bottles probably ten, fifteen years old—sun decided to rest on some stained glass in the woodwork arch, dance off linoleum and tin ceiling.

 

Radio’d turned to smooth jazz somewhere along the way. Sal put the cigar down and stretched, checked his watch, a now-empty espresso cup. “Eh, time’d Tony say he’d be back?”

 

“I dunno,” Eggy said. “Four, five.”

 

“It’s f*ckin’ five-thirty.”

 

“No sh*t?” Duke checked that goddamn watch, sure as sure it clanged against the tabletop when he put his fat arm back down. “I gotta jet. Mikey, how’m I doin’?”

 

“The f*ck do I know?”

 

“A’ sfaccimm’, you said you was watchin’ the pot!”

 

“I been watching the pot, that don’t mean keeping track of how you much further down the hole you bunch a’ degenerates’re fallin’.”

 

“Ah, f*ck this.Duke kicked up with the chair, “I’ll see youse later.”

 

Mikey went on as it petered out to a mumble: “Playin’ cards and ain’t keepin’ track of his own f*cking wagers, get the f*ck outta here.”

 

Freeze—faux tension mounted, Dukey raised the fist with the watch all-playful like on the way out, had the thing fall to mid-forearm.

 

Sal called “Get that f*ckin’ thing fitted, Christ almighty.”

 

“Yeah, boss.”

 

He left.

 

Boys waited, Sal tip-tapped on the tabletop until the shadow passed through the window frost, told nobody in particular “Go get me another espresso, will ya’?”

 

Glances.

 

Mikey went.

 

Toto scratched his nose all dignified, tip of the thumb. “It just me or’s he a little moosh-a-moosh lately?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Duke. He gots his f*ckin’ stories and whatever but I dunno, he’s f*cky. I dunno. He ain’t talked about his goomah for a while, wasn’t she sick or somethin’?”

 

Eggy, “Chlamydia.”

 

They froze, stared. Eggy broke into hyenas.

 

Toto went “No it weren’t no f*ckin’ chlamydia.”

 

Jubilee broke quick when the door popped open and the metal panel on the bottom went rebounding against the door-stop: Tony in a huff, Tony with sweat dripping off brow, panting in a knee-length navy peacoat.

 

“Eh, watch the trim!” Sal said.

 

Tony watched the trim. Closed the door real gentle.

 

“Sorry. Sorry, boss.”

 

Tossed the coat onto the rack and said his hiyas and patted backs and criss-crossed around Mikey as he placed the espresso with the saucer—it didn’t have the saucer before, Mikey found the saucer—on the table.


Sal gave the cursory smile and told Tony to sit.

 

“The f*ck’s with you? You run a marathon?”

 

Tony sat. Still panting. “No, just from my car. Just got back from Prosodian Ave.”

 

Sipped. “Yeah. You spoke to Greek Yan?”

 

“Nah—I mean yeah, he’s squared. But it ain’t that—s’f*ckin, you’re not gonna believe this, it’s Kelpie-f*ckin’-Paramore.”

 

“What about him?”

 

“Carmine got to him. I never—I ain’t never seen a guy so f*ckin’ set, holes we dug this meat-Mary motherf*cker out of, and he thinks we’re squeezin’ him like a lemon. He said that. Said we’s poppin’ seeds out of him at this point.”

 

Stone-faced. “Carmine?”

 

Eggy’s cards slapped green felt. “Get the f*ck outta here.”

 

Ignored: “Carmine. Told me—he says they were more generous. That simple. Says his livelihood, the meats, the fish they was sourcing local or some sh*t—it got contaminated or somethin’ or other and it’s cutting into him. And he says Carmine’s guys don’t want as tight a squeeze as us. And he says this and he’s smilin’ and he’s offerin’ me this tartare on the counter at the same time he’s telling me that Carmine’s got this crew comin’ in f*ckin’ tonight to clear the tables out.”

 

“You’re sh*ttin’ me.”

 

“Abso-f*ckin’-lutely not. I gave him two—I gave him three f*ckin’ chances to reconsiderate. Nothing.”

 

Sal sat back.

 

Sal looked at the table.

 

Nodded.

 

Eggy cut in, “This is something else, even for Carmine. Cocksucker.”

 

“Eh,” Tony went, “c’mon.”

 

Perked up—Sal said “No.” Finished his drink, rotated shoulders. “No, blood or no blood, Anthony, I don’t give a sh*t if the man’s my brother. Motherf*cker. This ain’t like the waste contracts, little competition, you give and take and to the victor the f*ckin’ spoils. Man’s always liked to stick in my craw, but Christ.”

 

Didn’t really finish the thought. Tony sat back in the chair, eased tensions.

 

“So whadda we gonna do?”

 

Seemed his thoughts might be going a mile a minute but Sal didn’t hesitate. “We’re gonna pay ‘im a visit.”

 

“Who?”

 

“That f*ckin’ half-titsoon whatever-the-f*ck, who d’ya think?”

 

“Titsoon? His ma’s from Martinique or somewheres, I dunno.”

 

Was Toto who said that.

 

Sal just gave him the eye.

 

And Toto shut the f*ck up.

 

Because it weren’t time for no corrections.

 

**

 

Who was Kelpie Paramore?

 

Kelpie Paramore was not his real name. It was, instead, a bastardization of some kind of f*cking French goddamn Caribbean kind of name for the sake of the immigration authority. A brown name. The friendly neighborhood butcher hocking your capicola and prosciutto - except he was hocking it in the View instead of Saint Marks, and the f*cker weren’t Italian. And he was a charming motherf*cker besides; it was Sal who first came around for the street tax when Kelpie put on his best airs and got affable. And Sal, who made the mistake of thinking the guy had a head on his shoulders, struck a deal.

 

The tables he’d shoved in the upstairs apartment were for baccarat. They had a thing going there and Kelpie even got a slice, some real lowdown casino sh*t. Good dough. And Kelpie, it seemed, had got f*cking greedy.

 

“And you don’t trust an Arab for none of this sh*t,” Eggy was saying.

 

He ain’t Arab--

 

“You wanna f*ck this guy, Toto?”

 

“I’m just saying. The Arabs is a whole different basket of nuts.”

 

Kelpie was a little f*ck. But they liked him. And now he was with Carmine.

 

Oh, that rat bastard. He was with f*cking Carmine. And Carmine, that little rat f*ck, was putting the screws on. Flexing his muscle. And that little rat f*ck was not gonna f*cking do that on Sal’s f*cking motherf*cking watch.

 

Prosodian Avenue. Off the Main Drag into Chinatown before turning into Portland View. And every day, everyone was saying, the View got a little smaller and Chinatown a little bigger. Prosodian had the basketball courts and the park and the school hall and only recently the old neighborhood was getting closed up.

 

Maybe it’s a rent thing?

 

Sal said “What?”

 

“Why he’s f*cking with us, maybe. Next door at the f*ckin’- uh… they bought out that guy’s place. The tailor?”

 

I don’t get my suits done in the View.

 

“No, but I’m saying, that guy was a Polack or some sh*t. And his place went outta business, yeah? And now it’s a f*ckin’ costume store.

 

Eggy, “A what?”

 

“Like this Scottish guy or English guy or some kinda’ sh*t. He bought the tailor’s place and he’s selling goofy ass costume sh*t, f*ckin’ like chicken costumes and sh*t like that. And like, that’s a f*cking gentlefication.”

 

A what?

 

“They make the neighborhood more gentle and sh*t.”

 

“It’s f*cking chinks,” said Sal. “They ain’t gentle.”

 

“But that’s just west a’ the f*ckin’ Drag. Eastwards they got fast food chains and f*ckin’ all that sh*t. I’m just saying, maybe that’s why.”

 

I don’t give a f*ck why.” Sal snorted, “Mike, we’re coming up.”
 

Mikey turned the Sentinel onto the Drag. Put his cigarette behind his ear.

 

PARAMORE MEAT CORPORATION

Beef ● Veal ● Pork ● Fish ● Poultry

 

Alright.

 

Pulled up on the curb. Didn’t even wait for the engine to turn off before Sal was marching out the side to the trunk, knocking on Toto’s window, storming. Would’ve broken the thing if he did it any harder. Pulled the key out his jacket and twisted and yanked.

 

Shotgun. Two automatics - S&W M76s. Pulled the thing out by the folding stock and snapped it and slap-slapped the trunk to tell Mikey to drive up a little for some distance.

 

People on the other side of the street were staring.

 

Trio backed up off the pavement onto the parking.

 

Yo, Kelpie!

 

Fired.

 

Anarchy.

 

Bullets sprayed out like nothing else in this storm. This screaming and ducking from the other side and cars swerving out of the way. They weren’t in danger, but it was the noise. The f*cking noise - these firework explosions and sparks flying and automatic fire smashing through the windows and hitting deli cases and meat. Stepped closer while the thing was still screaming out lead, Sal lining bullets up and down the window frame, the door frame, across the colorful Paramore sign.

 

And that was a couple seconds of carnage. And they were out.

 

Sal screamed a testosterone scream and threw his gat to the ground. Marched through the door as the other two hesitated and watched and the door swung. The desecration of the local meat-mart - broken glass and cracked wood and this ham hock rolling around on the floor and a bunch of split plastic packets of something-something. Olives, seeds, tchotchkes.

 

“What the f*ck?!

 

That was Kelpie.

 

Kelpie had this bald dome was gleaming with sweat and the guy, in his butcher whites, looked like he’d pissed himself.

 

“What you tell Tony?”

 

Sal, what the f*ck?!

 

“You tell Tony kick his ass down to Casa’s? Is that what? Leave our f*cking tables upstairs, you go with my fa**ot brother?”

 

Sal--

 

Sal kept walking and the guy was cowering behind the counter, ducking in and ducking out. Sal rounded it. Sal stopped with the guy in full view blubbering on the ground, skinny f*cking guy Kelpie was. And Sal grabbed crotch and said “Oughta’ crack your little f*cking 8-ball f*cking head on the goddamn concrete like a f*cking bocce ball, you little moolie f*ck.

 

Sal--

 

“Don’t- you shut the f*ck up!” Went closer. And Kelpie, the little rat f*ck, scampered away on his back. Oh. So that’s how it was, huh?

 

Sal leant down and pulled the .38 out of his ankle holster.

 

Look, look- with Carmine, look--

 

“I should get Egidio and f*cking Sesto down to pull the f*cking tables apart and throw ‘em in the river, watch ‘em melt. You know what the f*ckin’ EPA’s been saying about the f*cking river’s toxicity, Kelpo? And the goddamn mayor?

 

“Wh- what?!

 

Sal shoved the .38 into Kelpie’s gob and nearly got a bunch of thin lizard-teeth knocked out by the force.

 

“By Nineteen-f*cking-Ninety--

 

Kelpie was mumbling some sh*t.

 

--the f*cking sewage and the f*cking oil slick and all the f*cking toxic waste--”

 

He was practically screaming.

 

--and they won’t ban the CFCs with the- oh, f*ck this, like you’re a f*cking civil goddamn servant!

 

Sal pulled the trigger.

 

Kelpie screeched.

 

Click.

 

And Sal pulled the revolver out his mouth and said “How the hell is that, you eggplant prick?

 

Dropped Kelpie by the collar and the blubbering idiot had pissed himself. Literally. He’d pissed himself. Head went smack on the lino-floors and Sal stood up. Shoved the gat back into his pants and said “Next time, Kelpie. You f*ck me around, next time I’ll start putting metal in this f*cking thing. You get spitballs now, huh?”

 

The smoke was settling in the wrecked butcher.

 

Roaring, “Huh?!

 

Aw’right, Sal, aw’right, goddamn it--

 

“You f*cking wimp. Piss all over the goddamn floor. Insurance guys come over, you say all this damage was you doing a f*cking number one on the floor and the butcher shop slipping on the puddle. Dumbass.”

 

And Kelpie just muttered “What?

 

One for f*cking words, he was.

 

I said, if Carmine comes here, you tell him to stick salseech’ up his ass. I’m f*cking done with this sh*t.”

 

Walked out and took a big deep f*cking breath of the Delaware smog and went “Ahh.

 

Toto’d gone for the car.

 

Eggs was waiting.

 

Sal said “C’mon.

 

And they went on.

 

**

 

Sonny Forelli took off his coat and stretched his arms going “Ho! Goddamn.”

 

“You wipe your shoes off on the mat at the door?”

 

Yeah, Mark, I did.

 

“Because it’s been a real f*ckin’ toad choker the f*ck out there, Sonny.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. You got any smokes, Marky? I been--”

 

Sure--

 

“--not even since I f*ckin’ took the car over here, I ain’t smoked. Jojo, yo.”

 

Marco with the Eyes took the pack of Redwoods out his inside-jacket pocket and started thumbing at the smoking kills label smacked on the side and slid out the sticks. Were in the manager’s room in the back. Big round table in the center with the jukebox and the beers and the meat freezer and those cute pictures Marky put up. Carlo Gambino, Frank Sinatra, New York City f*ckin’ sh*t. Sonny took his seat, placed his fruity fedora flat on the table, relaxed.

 

Marky passed him his lighter - “Georgie’s in the sh*tter.”

 

Oh, f*ckin’ good for him. Just say he’s out or he’ll be back, c’mon, I don’t needa’ hear that.

 

“It’s the truth, Sonny.”

 

Stammered, squinted, sighed. Sonny lit his smoke and just said “Whatever” exasperated-like. “The guy, the blond. Him and his buddy f*ckin’... the medigan’. Was talkin’ to me about this thing they was on--”

 

“Lee.”

 

Lee?

 

“Lee, he’s the medigan’.”

 

“With the mustache?”

 

“Yeah. Cherkasky or whatever, he’s Jewish.”

 

I don’t really care what he is. He ain’t medigan’ then, he’s Jewish. And that’s in another worm park altogether. But what Lee said is that the bags they was gettin’ from our friend in the tweed suit--”

 

“Who?”

 

“The Nut.”

 

Oh.

 

“Yeah. Right? But Lee was saying the guy was talking to these Arabs or some kind of sh*t. About a-- oh, Georgie!

 

Giorgio. Giorgio who looked like a gorilla with the arms and the sunken skull eyes and the mope-mouth who had the paper under his arm grabbing at his belt with the other. “What.”

 

What, oh what. I was f*ckin’ lookin’ for you. Been looking for-the-f*cking-you, I was going everywhere askin’ the f*ck, you probably heard me.

 

“I couldn’t hear you, Sonny, I was in the torlet.”

 

“Nah, I’m saying I was callin’ you everywhere goin’ on about this sh*t. I was goin’ so loud you could probably hear me from a couple blocks.”

 

“No,” said Giorgio. “That’s impossible.”

 

Oh, you-” sighed. “So, okay. I put you on that thing.

 

“What thing.”

 

“The thing with- you know, the nut.

 

“What.”

 

“Do I have to spell it the f*ck out, you f*cking moron?”

 

“No, Sonny. Don’t spell it. I know how to spell it.”

 

What the f*ck do you mean?

 

“I know how to spell things and nuts and sh*t, Sonny.”

 

The f*cking skim.

 

“The what.”

 

You should probably talk to Frankie on that,” Mark said.

 

“We’re all apart of this, I told Georgie.

 

Jojo said “I’m confused.”

 

And you’re goddamn irritating me, Jojo. You really are goddamn irritating me.”

 

“I’m sorry, Sonny.”

 

Stop saying my f*cking name! Stop it! Just stop. I know you’re f*cking talking to me, you ain’t talkin’ to Marco, you’re talkin’ to me. I told you talk to the big man and his f*cking secretary downtown.”

 

“Oh. Yeah.”

 

About what we was doing with the f*cking thing we had in Tampa.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Yeah, oh my god, that all-the-f*ck you gotta say to me, Jojo, is yeah?

 

“No, I said more than that.”

 

Pointed with the cigarette between two knuckles, “I am going to f*cking kill you.

 

“No you aren't.”

 

Marco, “Jojo, shut the f*ck up.

 

“I don't remember nothin’ about no skin or nothing.”

 

Skim,” said Sonny, “S.K.I.M. See, I oughta’ had to f*cking spell it out, you f*ckin’ mamaluke. f*ckin-” turned over to Marco, “Can you call f*cking Frankie, then? Where the f*ck is he right now?”

 

“On that union thing in Torrington with Roger.”

 

That clown.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I am f*cking surrounded by f*cking clowns. Unreliable goddamn morons, the buncha’ them--”

 

Knocking.

 

Marco, “In!

 

Was the kid who used to drive for Frankie who came in with the serving tray and two cappuccinos, Derek. Derek said “Oh, Sonny! Phone’s for you.”

 

Sonny said “What?

 

“Yeah.”

 

Kid came up with the tray - Marco took his, Georgie went over to get the other before Sonny swiped it and said “Who’s on the horn, then?

 

“I’unno. Just said he wanted to talk to you.”

 

Well, tell him to f*ck off, then.

 

“Was talkin’ all professional. I don’t know.”

 

I know. Tell ‘em to f*ck off.”

 

Kid gave him this look.

 

Made Sonny go “Fine.

 

Made Sonny get off his ass and put the half-drank mug on the table and walk out the door with the Derek kid into the hall near the kitchen with the phone. Made Sonny take it off hold.

 

Made Sonny say “Sonny.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Made Sonny stop. And think. And say “Sally. Long time.”

 

“Yeah,” said Salvatore. “Long f*cking time.”

Edited by Cebra
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slimeball supreme

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Sal the Sicilian was a nice f*ckin’ guy. Nice enough. Him and his cousin rode around their part of Portland in black coupes and suits and made a show of themselves. Invited Sonny and his guys over to a do-up at his comare’s place: this little loft in Staunton where the fellas lined up and did blow and ogled flesh.

 

Sonny dressed up for it. Had the spearpoint collar, the lime green duds and the emerald shirt. Michael said he looked goofy and got a smack on the f*cking head and got told to wait in the goddamn car. Frankie called him a fanook, in the oxblood-leather jacket and the rugby sweater, and half-rubbed his nose in anticipation.

 

It was Sonny, Frankie, Marky and Tommy headed into there. Told Fat Mikey to watch for the bird sh*t and slammed the doors.

 

Frankie snorted a rail on the kitchen counter and nearly yelped.

 

“What I say,” Sal went, “I say it was good?

 

“That’s groovy f*ckin’ sh*t.

 

“And the shines just go off on the H gig. I tell ya’. I tell ya’, I told Earlie, I told ya’--”

 

He did,” Earl said.

 

“--I said this sh*t pops like f*ckin’ nothin’ else. I tell ya’.”

 

“I know this guy Purple Jack, and he ain’t even Italian, he ain’t even Italian--

 

“And Earl’s sayin’ Jack ain’t even f*ckin’ Italian!”

 

“--and Jackie does know these Italians who f*ck with Calcagno- who f*ck with Itch Antica, and they say that they deal without Itch but they deal anyways and they split the load themselveses. Eh?”

 

“It’s f*ckin’ genius,” Sal went. “And it’s sort of like what youse doin’ with that f*ckin shine f*ckin’ guy and we’re doin’ the same with him too, huh? But it’s not heroin. Heroin’s heroin. Right. But this. Madon’.

 

“We was gonna see one- we was gonna see the little guy, right?

 

“Yeah.”

 

Yeah. Youse guys can come along, too, huh? Right?”

 

Meanwhile the Forelli attache were hardly f*cking listening. Sal’s mistress was a Cuban chick which got Sonny and Marky both ogling, latina tits or whatever the f*ck they were thinking. Telepathically nodding back and forth at each other going goddamn, this bitch got a rack. Franco listening more intently and nodding along and giving limp “oh sures” and Tommy going back and forth.

 

Tommy’d once said women were good for being used and that’s where it ended. And Sonny thought that was a pretty f*cking weird thing to say while you were waiting at the Fort Staunton marketplace for a tuna san’. But he said it when he was 17 and Sonny was 24 so he thought the kid had just heard it watching a Cagney flick or some sh*t.

 

That was neither here nor there. Sonny slapped himself in the face and said “What?

 

“We’re meeting- you met Paulie from Portland?” Sal repeated, “Paulie Sins?”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, right, you’re from- right, right. This jumpin’ club near the park, we was headed to. To talk to him there. You been to the Planetarium?”

 

And Sonny said “Sure.

 

“Yeah, all the time,” Tommy lied. Kid had never been because the kid was a kid, kid wasn’t even drinking age. “Fine kinds of women at the Planetarium.”

 

“All the time,” Sal said. “Get your dick wet easy, huh?” Laughed a cackle, “Ace.

 

Earl, “You fellas wanna tag?”

 

“Why not?” went Frank.

 

And thus, the posse moved. The loft was near Newport in a little alleyway with this big blue garage door opening up to the backstreets. The crew of six sauntered on, left the comare to keep the blow in her nose while the wiseguys lead the bump brigade.

 

Sonny tapped on his car window.

 

Mikey jumped.

 

Cranked it down a little blinking.

 

You asleep in there?

 

“No,” Mike said, “Nah, Sonny.

 

“Hope as f*ckin’ much you rat bastard, you. Look - fours of us--

 

“Not me?”

 

“Nah, Mikey. I need you to bring the car back to the Ristorant’ and go talk to Georgie about what I was saying to you earlier about Levin.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You remember what I wanted to say?”

 

Yeah, Sonny, yeah. Is Tommy comin’?”

 

“Nah, Tommy’s stickin’ with me.”

 

“Oh. Where youse goin’?”

 

Nowhere, Mikey, nowhere. Just head on back to the Fort, huh?”

 

A’wight, a’wight.

 

Slap-slapped the hood of the car like he was patting its ass and let the wheels burn before laughing.

 

Was walking toward Belleville down through the nighttime crowds of the pushers and the homeless and the bozos-galore as Sal, a keen yapper, kept yapping. Going on, “We’s like a fourth family ourselves now, I think. Def’ opu-f*ckin’-late like a full grown ass one, huh?”

 

Franco, “Opulate?

 

“No, operate, I said.”

 

Earl, “He said operate.”

 

“And Paulie, I tell you, Paulie’s a great guy and he’s- a visionary. He’s a visionary, Paulie. His uncle got him this gig workin’ the Red Light District on this push-and-pimp thing. You get the girls out on the streets and you pump ‘em full a’ sh*t. Angel dust, dope, this white. And you tell the john he’s gotta have a free taste test and then the john goes goddamn. And then you’ve hooked him. A genius, Paulie. Paulie runs the Revue Bar. You been to the Revue Bar?”

 

“We don’t find ourselves out in Portland so much,” said Sonny.

 

Youse missing out.

 

“Is it seriously worth the ferry ride?”

 

“I’m telling you, cugine, I’m telling you. And the bitches got tits there’s like f*ckin’ silicon but they’re all natural. Massive, cheech.”

 

“Yeah, Sal?”

 

“Wanted some sh*t like that once-a-time but the Red Light’s the Red Light. Got nothin’ but love for it. The Sindaccos wanna operate, they can operate. I tell my crew, hey, don’t even push in. Stay in The Saints. Just keep it flowin’ like it’s a spic bitch on the torlet, huh?”

 

“Real classy,” said Tommy.

 

Classy,” Earl repeated, with full f*cking sincerity.

 

Line was collecting up half the block on the northern border of Belleville. Passed these panhandlers and the attache grabbed crotch and went “Oh!” And hobo spat on the ground, and the fellas kept walking.

 

Up the line with the pussycats and the guys in pattern bell-bottoms and leather vests; in crop tops and tight belts. Brushed past them up the sidewalk. Right up to the door. In big red capitals: THE PLANETARIUM. Nothing new.

 

Oh sh*t!” That was the bouncer and the bouncer was named Woody. And Woody went “Santino’s! sh*t, Sal. Hey, you motherf*ckers, head the f*ck on through--”

 

Meek, “Hey, we been waiting--

 

“Shut it. Come on through.

 

Sal handed Woody a 100; the guy at the cloakroom got a 50 and two twenties.

 

They were headed up a flight. The music wailed.

 

It’s a family affair…

It’s a family affair...

It’s a family affair…

It’s a family affair...

 

The Planetarium was some lofts with the walls knocked down and the brickwork spiced up with curtains; paintings; patterns. Sofa cushions in hideaways all leading into a center where the dance floor reigned. Live band was out tonight - moolie disco sh*t. Lights were flashing in the blues and the greens and the pinks and the yellows. You were seeing the sky.

 

“I know where Paulie hangs,” Sal yelled. Had to yell over the music.

 

One child grows up to be…

Somebody that just loves to learn, and uh...

 

Paulie was around Sonny’s age. Young guy, maybe a little older. Had this 60’s Elvis pompadour and was white boy dancing in a corner in this black suit with gold satin stitching. Gold Cross pins in both lapels. Kept running his hands through his greasy hair.

 

Paulie!

 

Didn’t react.

 

Got closer. Sal again, “Paulie, hey!

 

He was too into it.

 

Sal half-shoved him. “Oh!

 

“What the- oh f*ck, Sally, how the f*ck you doin’?”

 

sh*t’s kickin’, huh?

 

“Yeah, man, f*ckin’s groovy. Groovy’s.”

 

“I got some my partners here, I got Earlie and I got some folks youse’d want to meet, huh? Hey, Sonny--

 

And Sonny pushed through Tom and Frank to shake hands. And Paulie, still bouncing, shook. “Pleasure’s mine, Sonny.

 

Sal, “You wanna go up to VIP, got us some blow? I know you got some the guys around?”

 

Oh sh*t, yeah. Follow me.”

 

Both kids are good to mom…

Blood’s thicker than mud…

 

VIP was where the the red-velvet rope barriers stood and the smoke grew thicker. Wouldn’t pass no city tests. And Paulie was still hopping along to the music and bopping his arms as the posse moved through the crowd, as the words drowned out.

 

The bouncer for the VIP section? He got two 100’s from Sal. And Paulie chipped in with a 50 and a 70. Because f*ck it, right? He drew the curtains. Was as if the music got quieter. Tommy coughed.

 

“Easy, kid.” That was Sonny.

 

Lotta’ pricks around here, huh? Nose-in-the-air pricks.”

 

Thought you came here all the time, huh?

 

Sal, “S’that, Sonny?

 

“Was just tellin’ Tommy ‘bout this fox I saw with fat f*ckin’ pillows.”

 

Paulie had a spot basically reserved. Had two goonies already hanging out passing a doobie - one with a knit polo and a ‘stache, one with a pink sweater and a chain. Paulie pointed to mustache, “This is my fella Johnny Pistola;” pointed to pink sweater, “and the fella Bobby Serpico. Bobby, pass it.”

 

Bobby passed the joint.

 

Sonny, “I can’t think much a f*ckin’ good reason to mix Mary Jane with nose candy.

 

Pistola, “Huh? Youse got what?”

 

Sal, “Cocaine.”

 

Can you repeat that? You got cocaine?”

 

Yes, you f*cking moron, we got f*cking cocaine.

 

“And your name is?”

 

“Sal f*ckin’ Leone; Paulie, who the f*ck is this?

 

Paulie, “Johnny’s a straight shooter. Johnny, quit the grilling. Usually he shuts the f*ck up, but I guess it’s the pot--”

 

I ain’t done no pot!

 

“Okay.”

 

“Just for the record. I did not smoke any pot.”

 

Alright, Johnny.

 

“That’s right.”

 

Goddamn weirdo.

 

Weren’t gonna let him screw with the fun.

 

And boy, fun it f*cking was.

 

Coke got splayed out on the table like they was cutting the stuff; big ol’ pile. And Bobby rubbed his hands together and all the boys spread out and they took turns snorting. Paulie running his hands through his hair again going “Time, time, time, time, heyyah’, oh--” like he was speaking for the sake of doing so.

 

And minutes turned to seconds, and the live band was playing the trumpet. They were from San Fierro, or some sh*t, Sal said. And then he did a big rail off the sofa’s arm rest and went “Hoooooahhh!!

 

Sonny was captive to it. Did it all the same. Only abstainers were Frankie, who held on to a little reefer and left it there, and Tommy the kid who just watched all stony.

 

And the hours turned to seconds and Sonny weren’t sure how long he’d been there. But eventually, eventually - it was him, Sal, Paulie and Tom. The rest had f*cked off. And Sal was being a f*cking businessman. Trying to, anyway.

 

“--but there’s this thing. The old timers, they’re squares. Idiots, man.”

 

“Yeah?” Sonny went.

 

Hell yeah. I mean, I mean, a fella’s gotta earn scratch. And over in Portland we got the same-old rackets but there ain’t enough backs for the scratching, right? The rackets are dog. We run numbers, we got the bookies- I mean, these old f*cks is so f*ckin’ stupid this Sicilian f*ckin’ Neapoilitan- I mean, I tell my pops I friends with Sonny he’d skin me, right?”

 

For sure, baby, for sure,” Paulie was rapping.

 

“None of the other families,” Sal said, “not ours, not the Calcagnos, not your Forellis, not Carcer or the Gambinos or the Bonannos or whoever - will touch drugs.”

 

Bullsh*t,” went Sonny. “What about that thing the- uh, was it French guys or Turkish guys? But they had those Corsicans in New York--”

 

“All the heroin comes outta New York anyways,” Tommy said.

 

“Exactly.”

 

It’s about sanction,” Sal grinned. “The bosses don’t give a f*ck if they get good dough out it. But, but but but - sometimes these hard head f*ckin’ idiots got that morality thing. They’re okay you sell it to moolies, but oh, not the neighborhood!

 

“Suckers,” Paulie said. “No money in that.”

 

“So, really… it’s the bosses.”

 

The music went on. Took a moment for it to sink in. But it did. “What are you saying?” Tommy went.

 

I’m saying, you get rid of a boss, you got the sanction.

 

Paulie said, “My boss, he’s even more hard headed. Than Beppe Leone, even. He’s a real ass. And- you know what he said about the blacks? Don’t even deal to them. ‘Cause the mulignans can just go kill themselves fine, I don’t need to help. You believe that?”

 

“Racist as hell,” Sal said. “Talkin’ down to the n*ggers like that, goddamn racist.

 

So what do you want?” Sonny asked.

 

“You know,” Paulie went. He was doing little circles with his hands, “Something done about it.

 

“Something- like what? Whack a boss?”

 

Sal said “Well…”

 

f*ck no.

 

“He’s on his way out anyways,” Paulie went.

 

“No. Nah, I won’t get in on that. I’ll deal, but I mean- I just made capo. I got a crew now. And my guys, y’know--”

 

What about some power sharing thing?” Tommy said.

 

Like the music stopped.

 

Sal said “Huh?

 

“Well, screw the bosses, right? We don’t need to kill anyone important. But we just establish neutral territory, we stick to ourselves, then no rivalries get into it. We all move in on this one place and, hell, it isn’t like the bosses are gonna object, right? We cooperate.”

 

Sonny said, “Well, I dunno’--

 

“Go on,” Sal went.

 

“Like a Roman thing. Or the UN or whatever. Nothing official, but if Itchy or Beppe are gonna get pissed about it we just… like, we establish a neutral territory where no guns go off. And we process some dope through there, they ain’t gonna know. Because it’s all in the interests of cooperation. And we want to deal dope, anyone who does can because the bosses ain’t gonna be visiting. We can- I mean, we’re all businessmen, right?

 

“Right,” said Paulie.

 

“Right. So, a place a little quieter for us to plan things. It makes sense, don’t it?

 

“Where?”

 

“Portland, maybe. Sal, I mean, you got--

 

“No, no,” Sal said, “yeah, no, definitely.”

 

Beat.

 

“So that a yeah or a no?”

 

“It’s a yeah, Tommy. I know this thing on the corner, this old place, this guy. We knock him over, we take the place. I mean, it’s this big f*ckin’ joint, we make it ours. And it’s neutral and we can hang. Get Levin. Like it’s the Arctic or the Antarctica or whatever where nobody can do nothin’.”

 

“Sure,” Tommy went. “Why not.”

 

And I won’t fire a shot. Nobody will. Peace and sh*t.”

 

“You like, Sonny?”

 

And Sonny clenched his fist. And smiled. And said “Absolutely, Tom. You got it good, kid.”

 

**

 

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It was the worst f*cking lounge in the city, and it was theirs.

 

Owner was a pipsqueak Puerto Rican guy in his mid-50’s working on a height of around 5 foot 3. Named Malachai - or Lala - and enough of a pussy to dip to whatever Sonny and Sal demanded when they came in the door with Tommy V and Marco. That and Lala was a degenerate who kept borrowing cash from the local guys with Beppe Leone because he had a passion for British royal family memorabilia and wanted to make a racket out of reselling them and blah blah f*cking moron. Tommy socked him square in the f*cking face and he yielded.

 

It was the worst f*cking lounge in the city, and it was theirs. They gave the deed to Marco, and Marco signed it, and then by the end of the week they’d got some guys in to get rid of all the tacky carpet bullsh*t.

 

It was a nice enough set-up at around two floors and this unused space they could convert into kitchen - because Marco had decided he wanted it to be a ristorante like the Ecoli in Fort Staunton, but with a little more class. Stripped the wallpapering down to the raw brickwork but kept the fruity glass because when Frankie came in he said it looked like a f*cking church. Marky loved that.

 

And through that, Marco’s Bistro was born. And Marco had his name on the deed and the signage, even got some f*cking guys in to paint this big spiffy mural on the adjacent wall out the front parking lot in lime green - THE WORLD FAMOUS MARCO’S BISTRO which was world famous because Marco had decided it was - and that kept Marky Boy happy. Everyone knew it was Sonny’s gig though, Sonny and Sal, and Sonny had pride of place in a back room that became an unofficial office.

 

Che cazzo è questo che sto ascoltando di queste fottute stronzate?!

What the f*ck is this I’m f*cking hearing about this f*cking bullsh*t?!

 

It was pissing rain out in Torrington. Sonny had his finger in his f*cking ear in the phone booth squinting, “What did you say?”

 

Questi fottuti ritardati siciliani a Portland, quell’idiota di Beppe e il suo fottuto idi--

These Sicilian f*cking retards in Portland, that moron motherf*cker Beppe and his dipshi--

 

Pa, I can’t speak no Italian, what the hell are you saying?

 

“You’re dealing f*cking smack in Portland?”

 

Sonny laughed. Paulie out with the umbrella while the rain was bucketing, Frankie in the big trenchcoat with this massive f*cking grin on his face. “Where’d you hear that?”

 

From Pigs, from Pigs, from Pigs--

 

“Bob Pigolio? Antica’s guy?” Sonny said that loud enough for Paulie to register, looked at him, Paulie nodded back stone-faced.

 

“He says you’re dealing with f*cking scimmie out- your brother Marco--

 

“Papa, slow down, it’s not a big deal--”

 

Ceez sighing, “Madonna mia--

 

“Pa, please,” Sonny was barely holding back laughter, “I can explain.”

 

“What are you thinking?!

 

“I’m not dealing nothing.

 

“The f*ck is Marco doing?! The f*ck you let your f*cking brother--

 

“Pa, slow the f*ck down. Believe me, if Marco was dealing no drugs, I’d cut his one little dinky goddamn ball off myself.”

 

“This bistro in f*cking Portland--”

 

“Marco came into this thing with this kid Ennio.”

 

Beppe’s boy?

 

“Is that f*cking illegal?”

 

Potrebbe anche essere, fottuto cane.

It might as f*cking well be, you mutt.

 

What?!

 

“I said it mighta well-a f*cking be, Santino--”

 

“‘Cause they’re from- I mean, who gives a f*ck, it’s good business, might support your f*cking son--

 

“Deal drugs? Deal drugs?

 

“Deal sausage, pa, deal f*ckin’ chicken parmigian’. Could support him--

 

“Support what?”

 

Sonny grinning, “Support his dreams. Support his dreams, of running- of being a chef.”

 

He don’t tell me- he’s can--”

 

“Wants to run his own business, and that sort of, uh- yeah, and you could come down. Get a meal, say f*ckin’ something.”

 

“He’s not- what--

 

“These Calcagno guys, you trust Itchy Antica over youse own f*cking son?”

 

“You deal with these Sicilian mutts to get this thing.”

 

“The Leones?”

 

“The Leones, the Leones--”

 

“The Leone family ain’t nothing, they’re good people. What are you doing, disparaging these people, what are you thinking? Itchy Antica, Bobby Pigs, these Calcagnos. I just got this gig, you think I’m gonna waste time and my opportunities dealing smack, get myself clipped? You outta your mind?

 

“Cheem tell me--”

 

“Come on, pa.”

 

Cheem tell me you- these Leones is no good. They are hicks, they are hicks in Saint--”

 

“Pa--”

 

“Sicilian dogs--”

 

Who cares about this Neapolitan goddamn Sicilian sh*t? And these Anticas is from Puglia. You draw the line here but not there--”

 

Barely Italian, these Leones more Arab than Italian, these Leones is more from Tunisia from Carthage--

 

“Pa.”

 

Carthago delenda est, son, is what--”

 

Pa.

 

Ceez stopped.

 

“Pa. Would I lie to you?”

 

Ceez didn’t say anything.

 

Would I lie to you on this? Never. Would I screw over Marco? Never. Would I waste this opportunity, this golden opportunity you’ve given me? Never. Okay?”

 

Slowly, “Okay.”

 

“These are rumors. And so what, with Itch Antica, he’s spreading them. Salvatore and Ennio, they ain’t so bad.”

 

Hmph.

 

“This ain’t time for nothin’, pa, okay? We’ll talk back in Fort Staunton, I’ve gotta take care of things. Okay? Trust me, okay?

 

“Okay.”

 

“You believe me?”

 

I believe you. Just don’t do with these blacks and this heroin, son, please.”

 

“Pa, you don’t got to tell me. Okay? I love you.”

 

Buona fortuna, Santino.

 

“I love you, okay? I gotta go.”

 

“I lov--”

 

Sonny hung up.

 

Frankie was crying he was laughing so goddamn hard.

 

Sonny just shouted “Motherf*cker!” Laughing, opened the door into the rain and the wind sweeping his hair, “Motherf*cker. Paulie, it’s Pigs and the big man.”

 

“I heard,” he said.

 

“Bobby Pigs, Itchy Antica.”

 

“I told you. Sal’s already on board, I told you, Sal told me--”

 

Let’s get to the car.

 

Sonny walked through the rain, through the plaza. Up the staircase onto the streetside with the trees swaying through the wind. The gray Esperanto idling by with the lights on and the windshield wipers pump-pump-pumping.

 

Sonny opened the door.

 

Johnny Pistola in the driver’s seat.

 

I was saying-” Paulie shutting the umbrella, Paulie getting in the passenger. “I was saying, I talked to Sal. Sal’s pa’s been giving him sh*t too, I told you. Hanging out with Campanian bums, some bullsh*t--”

 

Frankie said “This Italian whoever-whatever, this all means nothing anyways.

 

“Exactly. But Sal’s on board with--”

 

“What happened?” Pistola asked.

 

Sonny said “What f*ckin’ business is it of yours?”

 

Did you get the papers? Or are you talking about what Paulie was planning at the club.”

 

“At the Planetarium, yeah,” Frankie said.

 

Sal,” Paulie cut, “was telling me Beppe was giving him sh*t too about our thing. And he said something about Cheem Basto--”

 

“What is Cheem a nickname for?” Johnny asked.

 

“Cosimo.”

 

Cosimo Basto,” Johnny said.

 

Paulie louder, “That they don’t approve of the Bistro exactly either. So it’s Pigs, it’s Itchy… we do what we do.”

 

“Barbaro Pigolio and Taviano Antica.”

 

Sonny said “Shut the f*ck up. f*ckin’ Johnny Echoes over here. We know their goddamn names.

 

“Sal’s on board,” Paulie said. “Sonny, Salvatore said he wants to do it. My idea, it’s perfect. He says it’s perfect. It’s just you.”

 

Sonny sucked in his cheek.

 

Popped it.

 

“We get somethin’ done, we get somethin’ done,” Frankie said. “I’m game.”

 

Sonny nodded. “I’m game,” he said.

 

Paulie smiled.

 

“Let’s get the f*ck outta here.”

Edited by slimeball supreme

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“You wanna be careful down there.”

 

I am.

 

“Are ya’? Are ya’?”

 

“Sonny–”

 

“Don’t f*ckin’ bap-yappa-yap yap the f*ck back to me, hold the f*ck on, you get too close with the scissors you’re gonna- ya’ liable to f*ckin’ kill me, ya’ scooch.”

 

Marco laughed, “Your life’s on the line, Derek.”

 

Ya’ life’s on the line!” Sonny grinning, “You f*ckin’ touch me the wrong way, that’s a violation, and then I’m liable to clip you.”

 

Derek, “Okay.

 

“Okay? Okay oogatz, be f*ckin’ gentle.

 

Moment of silence.

 

Clip.

 

Toenail fell away.

 

On the dirty floor of the Bistro’s back room, Derek pinched fingers, Derek grabbed nail, Derek put it with the rest on the table.

 

“Two left,” Sonny said, “Two left.”

 

“You watch out for Jojo,” Marco chirped, “He’s gonna see the nails, he’s gonna think- he’s, haha, bro, he’s gonna think, uh, that sh*t’s a snack.”

 

“Ha.”

 

“He’s gonna eat it.”

 

I’ve seen him- he’s one f*ckin’ skeevatz, I won’t dispute it or nothin’--”

 

“I’ve seen him eat cardboard.”

 

Derek, “Get the f*ck outta here.

 

Snip. “When he’s bored,” Sonny said. “Yeah. He’s done sh*t like that. Chewed rocks like it was gum. Or been suckin’ on the collar his shirts or eatin’ the shirt threads.”

 

“Why the f*ck you put this retard Jojo–”

 

Oh!

 

“Hey!”

 

Crack. 

 

Smacked Derek on the back of the head, kid jumped - “What–

 

“You can’t say that.”

 

Why not?! He ain’t got a button.”

 

“That ain’t the point,” Marco sniped. “He will, but that ain’t the point.”

 

“That ain’t the point.” Sonny smacked his lips, said it heavy, “That’s my retard cousin. Only I get to call my retard cousin a retard. You ain’t even got the right to call him Jojo.”

 

Yelped “What I call him?”

 

I dunno’, f*ckin’ boss. Except me, I’m boss boss, he’s boss. Then Marky’s boss–”

 

“That’s right,” chuckled, “I’m the chef boss.

 

“What the f*ck you ever cooked worthy of a ‘chef’?”

 

“I started a f*ckin’ bistro. World famous bistro.

 

“And thank god you ain’t the chef, Marky, Jesus.”

 

Snip. Nail went. Derek pinched fingers, Derek grabbed nail, Derek put it with the rest on the table. Derek, “You still cook with tap water, Marco.”

 

Sonny gagged. “No! Mother a’ Maryyy, c’mon!”

 

Marco, “What’s wrong with–”

 

“Are you f*ckin’ nuts?!”

 

“If you boil it–”

 

You don- mudda’f*cka’, you outta’ ya’ f*ckin- and we call Jojo a retard!” Sonny cracked up, “Jesus Christ, you’re gonna get everyone here f*ckin’ sick. Have you been making coffee with- Derek. Derek, please tell me you ain’t made no coffee with the f*ckin’ tap water.”

 

Hands up, “Never, Sonny. Never.”

 

“There’s a health advisory, Marco, you’re gonna get everyone here killed. Made guy drops because you use sh*t water in the gravy, I’m gonna–”

 

Door opened.

 

“Yo–”

 

Snapped “What, I was in the middle a’ somethin–”

 

He’s outside, Sonny.” Franco palming his honking beak nose, “He’s waitin’, he don’t wanna come in.”

 

“What the f*ck for?”

 

“Some of the guys ain’t happy.”

 

Ohhh, stanna mabaych’!”

 

Shot up like a rocket.

 

Rocket in Sonny’s pocket. Shoe off: burgundy wingtip brogues, burgundy socks. Blood red up from the slacks, burgundy. Burgundy silk shirt, burgundy tie. White three-button blazer that caught soot like a baseball mitt - shoulder pads bulked up for the Jack Howitzer silhouette.

 

Snatched the shoe. Sockless, hopped along on one foot and slid the thing on.

 

Stormed upstairs.

 

Evil stairways creaking up from the Bistro back room. Heels clicking, slamming, knocking brittle wood in place to the concrete base. Cooks and porter boys howling, static sizzle like ears were gonna burst.

 

Filthy white-brick walls. Waxy, foul.

 

Bar.

 

Noise.

 

Waistcoats, patrons. Murmurs, chatter, endless diner grumble. Looping classical music, droning, diner eyes snapping to Sonny already snapped.

 

Trailing behind. Derek, finch. Franco, toucan. Marco, owl.

 

Lightning on his heels.

 

Up the staircase.

 

Pounding. Stomping.

 

Stained glass windows. Creeper vines and modernist art.

 

Goon at the top of the stairs going “Sonny–

 

“Shut up,” half-pushed him aside. Kid stumbled, caught the wall for balance.

 

Caught Marco. Marco stumbled, lost his step on the stairs, backed into Franco. Franco choked, “Jesus holy–

 

Derek lost his footing.

 

Fell backward.

 

Yelped.

 

Franco broke the railing.

 

Fell.

 

Didn’t hear Franco scream crashing onto a diner’s table, didn’t see the diners bolt up and start fretting and head for Derek with his ankle broken, didn’t watch Franco flip back off caped in tablecloth and puttanesca, broken glass in his f*cking eye.

 

Droning classical music.

 

Opened the door with both hands.

 

A goddamn standoff.

 

Two Washingtons parked out on the curb by the four-foot tall, twenty foot wide trash pile had come to collect while the dump truck drivers were all on strike. Stink of carrion by the parking lot. It was the same on every block.

 

Sal was behind it.

 

Sal was standing in the parking lot.

 

Salvatore Leone, rubbing his shoulder. Rose in his suit pocket, dressed in a brown tartan suit. Towering over him with an umbrella, Big Tony Cipriani, boxer-wide shoulders and leather gloves.

 

Sal had half his crew out.

 

Fat Mikey was reading him the riot act.

 

Ill-fitting knit polo, unbuttoned to show Mikey’s gut through wifebeater and two-stacked St. Christopher necklaces. Row of three or four goombahs crowding around.

 

Yelling about trash.

 

I don’t give a sh*t WHAT the f*ck you thought, what it’s wort’, what–”

 

Big Tony, “You don’t talk that way–”

 

“It smells like f*ckin’ deat’! It smells like deat’! Like there’s dead bodies- you can’t get a cart out, can truck this sh*t–”

 

“You don’t talk that way.”

 

Shut the f*ck up, Anthony, you brown-nose little punk.”

 

Tony Cipriani had hands that could crush a man’s skull.

 

They flexed.

 

This had to stop.

 

Sonny stamped down the steps, pattering rain, clapped his hands calling caterwaul, “What’s goin’ on?!” Clapping his hands above his head, “Mikey! Mikey, what’s goin’ on–”

 

Got Sal craning his neck. Got a smile, “Ciao! Sonny!”

 

Mikey turned.

 

Color in his face went.

 

Sonny, “What the hell you doin’?

 

“These guys are on the property, Sonny!” Wasn’t Mikey. Was a goombah.

 

“These guys are on the property,” Mikey parroted.

 

So?

 

“So? So Salvatore Leone is the reason Portland’s an open sewer.

 

Sonny side-stepped. Under the umbrella, dusted off the suit, “That so?”

 

Sal shrugged back. “People work hard in Harwood. I imagine that’s why they call it that.

 

Mikey, “We ain’t doin’ no ecological word origin sh*t.”

 

“If circumstances is sayin’ Harwood garbagemen and womens are gettin’ f*cked, I think it’s their right to go on strike.”

 

“End the strike for fifteen minutes so we can get the f*cking trash off the f*cking road.

 

Shrugged again. Smirked, “I can’t do that.

 

Sonny, “Mikey, I called Sal down here.”

 

What?” he asked, “For a sitdown?”

 

“Sorta’.”

 

“Tell him to pick up the garbage, it’s ruining business. It’s ruining business, it’s spoiling appetites.”

 

“Mikey,” Sonny smiled. “Every restaurant in town is dealin’ with the same thing. It’s ruining business equally. You got one man to blame for it, and that’s Carmine Leone, it ain’t Salvatore.”

 

Sal, “Can you tell your kid brother to shut his trap before he gets hisself jaw broke?

 

Mikey blinked.

 

Sonny turned.

 

Mikey,” Sonny said. “Shut your trap before you get your jaw broke.”

 

Mikey blinked.

 

Stepped back. “Fine.

 

Sal, “Thank god, Sonny, thank god. Frankie tried to cool his jets, and this kid won’t budge. This little maniac stunad’ jelly belly creep. And he disrespects the workin’ man.”

 

“He does,” Sonny sang. “Frankie’s waiting in the restaurant I think.” Sonny peeled eyes - saw Marco standing at the entrance, big owl eyes a thousand yards wide.

 

“Okay.” Turned to the car, “Umbrella! Umbrella! I’m gonna get Toto to get you another umbrella. But the rain’s probably gonna clear up.”

 

“I’ll get Frankie, get Marco, then we can sit down, head to the thing.”

 

No problem.” Sal’s eyes still stuck on the window, on Toto sorting through the car.

 

Sonny on Marco.

 

Marco talking to Mikey.

 

Diners filtering out the door.

 

Frowned.

 

**

 

Frankie wasn’t coming to the sitdown.

 

He had to go to the ER. Derek too.

 

Wasn’t good. Frankie was the brains, Frankie was the business, was the consigliere. Frankie was Staunton construction and water treatment at Cochrane Dam.

 

They’d been hobbled going into the sitdown.

 

Had been two weeks since they laid out Kelpie Paramore’s place off Prosodian. Got three phone calls within the hour.

 

Mad.

 

Mad?

 

Sal’d show them f*ckin’ mad.

 

Garbage had already been piling up through the month. Liberty garbage was Leone business, specifically Sal’s business. Had already been holding on negotiations with Carmine’s people, been holding on getting business moving again. Waste had already been piling up.

 

Want to freeze me out? Oh, f*ck you, I freeze you out.

 

Got the union together.

 

The Trashmasters laid dormant at their depots.

 

The city rotted.

 

Liberty was always more a trash dump than a city. More garbage than people, and garbage people. 16 days without trash collection. Now it was literal. Filth everywhere. Filth outside every restaurant, every apartment block, shoved into empty spaces in city parks, had turned entire parking lots into makeshift landfills. Garbage piling up along entire blocks. Had been told there was a spot in Torrington where it was piling up to the second floor of apartment buildings, pressing against the windows.

 

They were throwing bags in the river. They were getting typhoid in Hepburn Heights. Dysentery in Wichita.

 

But the mayor was owned by Sonny Forelli, so the mayor supported the strike.

 

Sal put-putted on the cigar heading up St. Marks Loop. Had seen the loose garbage bags rolling downhill.

 

Smoke collected. They didn’t open the window. They couldn’t.

 

Portland reeked. The smell could kill a small animal.

 

If Liberty City wanted to blame anyone, they would have to blame Carmine Leone.

 

Sonny was gonna play mediator.

 

Now you wanna be firm,” Sonny coached. “You don’t wanna give no impression you ain’t a lion, but you can’t be a gazelle. You gotta never lose your cool.”

 

Marco the f*cking parakeet, “Never lose ya’ cool, Sal.

 

Cars rolled up to the Leone compound: Beppe Leone’s old home, Carmine’s new one, the headquarters of the Leone-Palermo Produce Company.

 

“I know Carmine–”

 

Tony, “You know Carmine?”

 

“I know Carmine,” Sal replied. “I came out the same c*nt.”

 

Little chuckle, “True,” Sonny said. “Look. I needa’ talk, I needa’ talk to somebody, I needa’ talk to anybody, I’m never losin’ my cool. Never lose your cool. That’s the main thing. Because I know this Carmine.”

 

What I tell ya’?” Putting the cigar, “Same pussy.”

 

“Same pussy, same pussy, he’s the pussy. He’s gonna melt like butter, Salvatore. The man’s backbone is plywood. Only problem is if he breaks he’s gonna–”

 

“There is a pervascent--” little bump in the road turning the coiling dirt corner, “Tony, watch the f*ck out.”

 

I hate driving up this road, Sal. I hate this goddamn house.”

 

“Ah, c’mon with you.”

 

“You make boss, you’re gonna make me drive up this f*ckin’ street every day, huh? Every f*ckin’ day.”

 

Tony. Get outta’ here.”

 

“So you ain’t?”

 

“I’m a man of the street, Tony. I’ll burn my cocksucker father’s house to the ground I make boss. Y’know what they’re gonna have to do? Sonny, you son of a bitch.”

 

Sonny laughed. “What’re ya’ gonna do, Sal?”

 

I’m gonna make ‘em drive, with their f*ckin’ spats and their f*ckin’ fifteen billion dolla’ suits, out to the club in Trenton. Carmine’s guys are gonna have to get the dirt a’ the street on their f*ckin’ fabrics, huh?” Grinning, “I’m gonna make the mayor come down to the Quays.”

 

“I believe it.”

 

Whole car believed it.

 

Car stopped.

 

Men waiting at the entrance.

 

Trash had been piling up by the ramp. The help had given up lugging it to the end of the drive.

 

Men. Silver Dollar Sal, one of ‘Front Street’ Truffa’s truffatores down on Kurowski Street in Chinatown. The fish market guys, the raffle runners and protection pushers on the immigrants: noodle boys, counterfeiters, the legitimate guys on Colorado Square.

 

Car door opened.

 

Slammed.

 

Saw him pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

The rain had cleared up.

 

The stench hadn’t.

 

Carmine’s guys in funeral monotone extended hands for Sal’s blue collar guys in rainbow red-beige-blue: Toto, Eggy and Duke in the rear car. Mikey Meatballs lagging behind, driving duty.

 

Silver Dollar didn’t shake Sal’s hand. Begrudgingly let Sonny get close and pat his shoulder, “Atta’ boy, Sally. Sally. I heard they been calling you the ‘Good Sal’.”

 

Sal stopped. “That so?

 

“I was joking. I was joking, right, Silver Dollar?

 

Silver Dollar let out a little laugh. Sounded like a dying animal. “Sure.”

 

Sonny was not joking.

 

“Where’s Carmine?”

 

He’s up on the terrace, Salvatore. C’mon.”

 

Past the open ramp.

 

The procession. Larger than Beppe’s wake.

 

The terrace.

 

They’d held weddings here. Big parties. There were no tables. Just trees, just garbage.

 

Uncle Leone. The zips. Two of them. Nameless. Portland Boulevard greaseballs. Ran the casino on Terrio Lane.

 

They didn’t have to be there.

 

Sal approached.

 

“Salve,” Uncle murmured.

 

“Yeah.” Kissed his uncle on the cheek. Held his face a short moment, nestled his chin on his shoulder. Sal asked slow, “Why the f*ck are you and the siggies here?

 

Chuckled raspy. “To put down a mad dog.”

 

Let go.

 

Nobody saw.

 

Their fronts didn’t break.

 

The Gentlemen’s Club.

 

Rolling waves of leather. Leather couches, leather upholstery, leather barstools. Boxes of water bottles stacked up behind the bar, stacked up by the bathroom door. Monochrome paintings of Portland Beach. The piano. Piano unattended while piano music fluttered through music speakers.

 

If the feds were smart they would’ve bugged this sh*thole up to the f*cking rafters.

 

They were probably building a case against Carmine now.

 

Made time of the essence.

 

Carmine stood up. Carmine did the Beppe-pout, bunched chin, eyes in thinking position. Waistcoat and pinstripes.

 

Sonny approached, went to shake his hand.

 

Red Meo, the hulking mass, stood in front.

 

No,” Carmine said. “Mazzeo, he’s saying ‘allo.”

 

“I know,” garbled out his crooked jaw, like his mouth stood at the wrong angle. Mouth full of shrapnel, leather lips like they were coated in lipstick. “I’m just checking you, Sonny.

 

Sonny retracted the hand, brought it to his chest, “At home to Mr. Tetchy? What, like I’m gonna suicide bomb youse, like I’m Lebanese.”

 

“Every precaution. We’d a’ pat yuz’ down, but that’s disresec’ful.”

 

It f*ckin’ woulda’ been disrespectful, ya’ goddamn right.”

 

Carmine, “No need for- no need for expletations. My father died here. His ghost’s gonna hear you profaming and he’s gonna haunt you. That’s just how it is.”

 

Long pause.

 

Sal stepped forward. “Pa’s not hauntin’ nobody.”

 

“You’re right.”

 

Oh?

 

“Yeah.” Carmine tapped his temple. “He’s up here. Guiding every move. My hand is his hand. And everyone in this room should wanna’ preserve his legacy, or they should–”

 

“Are we sittin’ down, weejie boy?”

 

Exhaled, “We’re sittin’ down. We got our parties. Ya’ posse ain’t comin’ in, and neither is Uncle’s or Front Street. They’re here to pay respects. Gonna be me and Al. Gonna be you and Tony. Sonny and Franco. And Red on the–”

 

Sonny, “It’s gonna be Marco, not Franco.

 

Blinked. “Why?”

 

“He fell down the stairs and he fractured his neck.”

 

Stopped pouting a moment. “What?

 

“If he’s outta’ commission, he’s outta’ commission, I dunno’ what the f*ck to tell ya’. This f*ckin’ kid a’ mine, Federico, Derek, he got his ankles f*cked up, he’s not gonna- I dun’ even know he’s gonna walk again, maybe. Or maybe he is. I dunno. But, he’s like- y’know, I mean, he’s f*cked.”

 

“Are you joking?”

 

“No. I mean, why wou- no, he’s- I mean–”

 

Meo, “You ain’t got the stairs checked out?”

 

“If we get a lawsuit, maybe, but I mean, if you wanna blame nobody for the stairs you can blame the f*ckin’ spic we brought the place from, f*ckin’ Malachai or whatever.”

 

Marco, “I heard he’s in the hospital.

 

Turned back, “No sh*t?”

 

“Yeah, he’s got cholera.”

 

“He live in Hepburn?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

See, that explains it.

 

“The stairs are a safety hazard, then,” Meo said.

 

“No.”

 

“Your brother broke his f*cking neck falling down the stairs, it’s a safety hazard.”

 

“It’s only happened once before, like a third time, I’d consider that a safety hazard.”

 

Sal pushed in, “Why are we talking about this? We’re sitting down.”

 

“‘Cause I’m here,” Marco replied. “Frankie, I mean, that poor f*ck. First of all, by the way, it ain’t broken. His neck. Let’s get the record straight. Where’s Al?

 

Carmine’s voice a little shaky, “I mean…” Was maybe adjusting to the tone of conversation. “He’s at the bar. Al!”

 

Bulldog Al Zizzo turned his head at the bar. Bottle of water. “Huh?”

 

Frankie’s not gonna make it! It’s Mark.”

 

“What’s Mark?”

 

“Mark’s standing in for Frankie.”

 

“Mark who?”

 

“Marco with the Eyes. Marco Forelli.”

 

“Are we sitting down now?”

 

Yeah, we’re sitting down!

 

“A’ight, lemme’ take a leak.”

 

Al Zizzo grabbed another bottle to wash his hands.

 

The brothers Leone left for the conference room.

 

Dark room.

 

Long table. Ornate legs. 

 

Wronged parties at either end.

 

Carmine walked slow. Perambulated around to the furthest end from the door, let Meo stand behind him. Big golem.

 

Sal never did anything slow. Sal took the closest seat. Snapped his fingers for Tony, pointed at the ground for him to stand. Would stand to match the golem. Would stand because Tony stood taller and broader. Would eye his counterpart.

 

Sonny in the middle.

 

There were only four chairs in the room. Zizzo had dibs on the fourth.

 

Took a moment to realize, for Marco to whine “Where’m I sittin’?
 

“You don’t have to sit,” Sonny said.

 

“Are you kiddin’ me?”

 

“Are you gonna talk back to me?”

 

I’m talkin’ back to the f*ckin’ organizer, foist’ of all, that’s the-f*ck I’m talkin’ back to, why the f*ck there only four seats?

 

Sal, “Carmine, this is a conference table.”

 

Carmine said “Yeah?”

 

“Are you only having conferences with four people?”

 

I- I mean, we ain’t used the room, we usually use the main room–”

 

“Why the f*ck–” Sal scoffed, “why don’t we just use that, then?”

 

“First of all, anyone could see inside. It ain’t private.”

 

You have meetings there, anyway. Do you worry some f*ckin’ fed is gonna see inside through there normally?”

 

Marco had left the room. Carmine said “We want this private. We ain’t makin’ the representatives wait outside. This room’s also got dimmers, too.”

 

“What does that have to do with anything?”

 

“I like the dimmers for the mood. We sat down with some New York guys here once, we had the dimmers on.”

 

Marco came back. He’d brought a stool. “I’m sittin’ down at a sit down, this ain’t a ‘stand up’, I’m sittin’ the f*ck down.”

 

Rounded the back by Sal, Sal mumbling, Sal saying “Can you watch it–”

 

“If this is some power thing–”

 

Marco!” Was Sonny. Face a little red. Eyes bulged out, took a deep breath, turned it into a smile: “If ya’... heh, if you’re a stand up guy, then you don’t need to sit down! Ha! Right?”

 

Placed the thing down. “That word ain’t literal,” Marco squawked.

 

“I was making a joke you f*cking halfwit.”

 

“Are you really going to be disrespectful at a sitdown?”

 

Carmine placed a hand on the table.

 

All looked to him.

 

Carmine was stentorian. Uttered slow, “Are these the kind of people you see should mediate our differences, Salvatore?”

 

Sal stopped.

 

Looked to Sonny.

 

His eyes lit up.

 

Had a finger to the corner of his mouth. Hairs standing on his neck. “I am a neutral party,” Sonny snarled.

 

The door opened.

 

Al Zizzo. 

 

His hands wet, down to the cuffs of his tweed jacket. Holding a glass bowl of peanuts.

 

Carmine looked to Al. “So mayhaps,” he declared.

 

Zizzo looked at him a moment, blank expression. “Uh… yeah. I brought nuts. Sorry for the long time, I didn’t turn the faucet on, but sh*t, it turned on by itself again. And it came out thick,” kept walking, “like it was cloggin’ up the drain.”

 

Sal, “It’s doin’ that again?”

 

“Usually the water’s brown, but it ain’t thick. It was like mud. I had to get that kid a’ yours, Sal, with the caveman face.”

 

“Toto.”

 

Yeah!” Sat down, “He helped, though. Youse want any nuts?”

 

Nobody wanted nuts.

 

The air settled.

 

Zizzo sucked his fingers. “So, are we doin’ this?

 

“We’re here,” Carmine said.

 

“Okay.” Looked to Sonny, “Santino. You’re the esteemed guest of honor, and you’re gonna be presiding over this. You ain’t makin’ the final say. This is a family matter. But, y’know, ya’ the unbiased, euh, source, y’know.”

 

Sonny popped his cheek. “Right.”

 

Sucked his fingers again. “You have the room.

 

Clasped his hands. “Well. From my family to yours, the Forelli and Leone borgatas have a history of cooperation. That’s the truth. And it’s even become apparent to the Sindaccos or outside organizations that there is internal strife inside the family once helmed by Giuseppe Leone.”

 

“No sh*t,” Zizzo chewed.

 

Well- well,” Sonny was taken aback, but soldiered on, “My brother Franco, who couldn’t be here today, he’s cooperated with Carmine here on some joint projects in Torrington. And just the same, Salvatore and I, we’ve been good friends a time as well. And I’ll say this, at the end of the day, we’re all the same cosa nostra. Despite some bein’ Nabolidan’. Others bein’ Sigilian’. We ain’t different cosa nostras. This ain’t one cosa nostra to a different cosa nostra - it’s all cosa nostra.”

 

“Cosa nostra,” Carmine agreed.

 

“And in cosa nostra, as a cosa nostra, we all set aside our differences, we work toward cosa nostra. Every brother a’ mine, he’s cosa nostra ‘til the end. And the advantage you two have got is that youse cosa nostra and youse brothers. So you was brothers before, and you was almost double brothers, maybe, after you both took the oath.”

 

“Couldn’t have waxed it more lyrical,” Salvatore said.

 

“It’s been understood, Sal, that previously you was gonna be negotiating the dustcart contracts with Carmine.”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“And after the business with what happened, naturally, nobody’s been dustcartin’ nothin’ nowheres.”

 

Again, “That’s right.

 

Carmine, “This strike would’ve ended the other week without outside support. Mayor Walnut hasn’t even acknowledged it.”

 

“He’s a man of the people, what can I say?”

 

“I’m just disputin’ the neutrality of some of the peoples in the room.”

 

Who?” Marco asked. Genuinely didn’t know.

 

Sonny, “We all agreed I would be overseeing this sitdown.”

 

Shrugged. “So mayhaps,” Carmine said.

 

Tony, “What does that even mean?”

 

Salvatore,” Carmine rasped. Loud, Beppe pout, “State your case.”

 

Pop. Lips smacked. Salvatore pressed his fingers to the rose in his pocket. “I’ve simply used the tools at my disposal to voice my dissatisfaction with the current goings on in the family. I have been deprived of my regular voice.

 

Marco, “But you’re speaking now.”

 

Sonny, “Shut your dumb f*cking mouth, Marco, before I rip out your f*cking tongue and f*cking strangle you with it.”

 

Beat.

 

Beat.

 

Beat.

 

“Sorry,” Marco squeaked.

 

Thank you.

 

Room uneasy.

 

“I just want what I’m owed,” Salvatore continued, eyes lingering. “And that’s my earn.

 

Carmine, “What’s the issue?”

 

“I feel a disrespect.”

 

You do?

 

“I’ve felt it since before Beppe died, even. That there is a disrespect to myself, and friends of mine. Blue collar men. Hard workers. Trenton, the Quays. I’d say if there’s a balance, it’s a little off kilter. As soon as you make the throne, Carmine, you lean on Kelpie. You lean on people in my neighborhoods. You tighten up negotiations with the carting contracts, my people with the Stevedores, the demolition contracts on the West Port Bridge.”

 

“And you stink up the whole town because of Kelpie Paramore?

 

“My requests are pretty humblized.”

 

“What requests, Salvatore? The only conversation you’ve invulged me in was shooting the sh*t outta’ the meat market on the Drag and Prosodian.

 

“I just want a seat at the table. And you gotta admit, the thing with Kelpie was outta’ line.”

 

So mayhaps.

 

“Carmine. It’s the Leones. That’s what we’re called. It’s our family, our father. Should be a family business. All I want is the open underboss seat and a say on family business. I’m willing to make compromises and compressions.”

 

“No offense, Sal, but I’d rather f*ckin’ kill myself and everyone else in this room.”

 

Well, alright then, I’ll take my compromises and compress ya’ f*ckin’ head under a car wheel, what the f*ck is wrong with you?”

 

“That’s the kinda’ tone you’d take?”

 

I’m sorry, but who the f*ck you gonna slot in instead? Mazzeo Russo?” Looked up to Red Meo, “No offense, but what rackets you ever run?”

 

“Not Meo. Front Street.”

 

What the hell Frontiniano done to deserve that seat?

 

Ginzo Al Zizzo smacked his lips and sucked on his fingers again, “I think it’s a good decision.”

 

“What, he suck ya’ sticky cock? I’m gettin’ froze the f*ck out over here. Front Street ain’t even blood.

 

“Front Street earns at a sizeable rate and he’s got some of the solidest, most hard-workingest soldiers in the family, is part of the reason.”

 

Carmine, “And the other half of the reason is you’re dealin’ f*cking dope and coke and that’s half ya’ f*ckin’ earn, and Front Street sure as sh*t don’t.

 

Sal shot up, “That is an allegation and a half, brother of mine, and that is crude and unsubstantial. You think our father would tolerate you freezing out youse own flesh?”

 

“Drug dealing blood, yeah. It don’t take a genius, Salvatore.

 

“Yeah, it takes a retard. It’s a retarded accusation.” 

 

“Toto Cilli’s got a dozen moolies pushing coke all over Chinatown. We caught this one eggplant kept saying Toto, Toto, Toto, like the Wizard of f*ckin’ Oz, we caught him givin’ crack to the chinks on Colorado. I’m hearin’ talk from friends you got this guy Eggs, he’s got whores got coke up their pussies or whatever the f*ck.”

 

“You are a crass man, Carmine.” Feigned disbelief, “You wear the suits and you disrespect women. Gonna freeze out flesh, I should freeze out your flesh, I should stick youse cock in a f*ckin’ antifreeze bottle, is the f*ck I should do.”

 

“It’s the truth. Maybe crass, but it’s true. Coke dealers on the garbage routes. I bet this whole strike is cuttin’ into the proceeds there.

 

“I should kill you for even saying that.”

 

“I should have you tied up when they blow up the West Port and spray the f*ckin’ body parts all over the Callahan River.”

 

Sonny, “Gentlemen, simmer down. Simmer down! This is not the way we talk to friends in the life. This is out of line.

 

“I’m the boss. I oughta’ demote you. I have it in my right. And Sonny, you oughta’ shut your f*cking mouth, I bet half the reason you’re even here is ‘cause Sal’s gonna tolerate you pushing dope all over the Fort.”

 

Carmine was right. “You are wrong,” Sonny spat. “I’m here because cosa nostras aren’t doing what they should in this cosa nostra.”

 

“You’re here because you’re a drug dealer.”

 

Excuse me?!

 

“Raise ya’ voice some, Sonny.”

 

“I’ll raise more than voices! I’ll raise your father out the grave, I’ll kill him again! Make you watch!

 

Marco, “I think maybe pretty much everyone is in violation of the rules right now, in this room.”

 

Al Zizzo, “I don’t know.”

 

What kinda’- is Franco, like, would he know how to deal with this sh*t? ‘Cause you all sound like youse wanna f*ckin’ kill each other.”

 

“The rules only draw a line at puttin’ ya’ hands on another made man. I’m pretty sure.”

 

“You’re pretty sure?

 

“Or certain. I dunno’.”

 

I dunno.

 

I dunno.

 

You don’t f*cking know?” Was Sonny, Sonny stood now, Sonny pissed. “You’re consigliere, you’re the man behind the boy, and you don’t know?

 

“I ain’t a thesaurus.”

 

“This is a mockery. Youse all out youse f*ckin’ minds. Carmine. Carmine. Are you even gonna entertain one of my friend here’s requests?

 

Carmine thought.

 

Carmine thought.

 

“No,” Carmine said.

 

Sal couldn’t speak.

 

“You’re stoppin’ the strike, Sal, or I’m demotin’ youse. Then it’s the shelf. Then you’ll be givin’ our father two-way calls through the visiting glass in Hell. Drug dealing is a sin. That’s the fifth commandment.”

 

No it ain’t, that’s gluttony.”

 

“You’re a glutton. You want everything. But my law is law. Beppe put me in charge. Not you, and certainly not a drug dealing f*ck like Sonny Forelli. So I want you both to know. The strike is off. My positions are final. Front Street is underboss. My word is law.

 

“Is this how you honor the Leone name? Honor our father?”

 

“It is. He never believed you was dealin’ drugs.”

 

“He was right.”

 

He was blinded by love. I got tough love.”

 

“I got tough love, too.”

 

So mayhaps.

 

So mayhaps.

 

Salvatore glared.

 

Let’s go,” Sonny said.

 

“Yeah,” Red Meo uttered. “Youse two should get yuz’ outta the place, n’ that.

 

Al Zizzo’s slug fingers dipping back into the bowl, chewing nuts mouth-open.

 

Tony already at the door.

 

Sal stood.

 

Strode.

 

Out the door, he heard laughter.

 

Laughter?

 

Sonny followed, followed like a storm ahead with fists clenched, didn’t even notice.

 

Eggy and Toto confused.

 

Looked to Uncle Leone, at the bar, Front Street with him.

 

They were laughing.

 

Eggy, “Are we going?

 

Sal, “We’re going.”

 

Toto, “Goin’ where?”

 

“We’re gettin’ the troops together.”

 

It go that bad?

 

Eggy, “Don’t pretend, Toto, we heard them f*ckin’ screaming.”

 

They were still laughing.

 

Out the door.

 

Into the rain.

 

At the end of the ramp. Thin Mikey Meatballs. Thin Mikey with his head in his hands.

 

Rain smacking Sal’s bald spot. Tony forgot the umbrella in the car.

 

The car.

 

Down the ramp.

 

Sonny standing there.

 

Silver Dollar laughing. Laughing by the garbage, laughing with the Chinatown crew.

 

Sonny turned away. Gritting his teeth. Could barely contain himself.

 

Sal to Mikey, “We’re goin’, c’mon, it’s raining.”

 

We ain’t.

 

“What? Why?

 

Hyena screeching. Back to Silver Dollar. One of his goons on the ground, ass in the mud, hysterics.

 

Back to Mikey. Mikey’s eyes on the gas tank. “They poured sugar in them.”

 

Blinked.

 

What?

 

“The car’s not starting. They poured sugar in the gas tank.”

 

“Why the f*ck didn’t you stop them, Mikey? Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you tell- why didn’t you stop them?

 

Mikey sighed. “They’re made.”

 

“So?”

 

“I can’t touch ‘em. They’re made.”

 

Sank in.

 

Eyes on Silver Dollar. Bitch grin. “Enjoy the smell, huh?” Saluted with two fingers.

 

Groaned.

 

Was Eggy and Toto down the ramp. Saw the laughing, parroting questions. Feet in the dirt, mushed pathway with stones in their shoes.

 

Sal didn’t reply.

 

Tapped Sonny on the shoulder. “We’re walking,” Sal said.

 

Sonny nodded.

 

Turned.

 

They walked.

Edited by slimeball supreme
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