Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Out of control

No sleep, last night, thanks to my mind refusing to shut down. Which means a sleep-walker of a day. I'm posting early 'cause I'm aiming for bed, early...and doing it the lazy way -- with a part of "Inherent Flaws." This is when Vinnie's 18 and considering a job that would put him "on record" with the mob.


The phone rang. Ronnie reached over the bar and answered it. “Hello. Who’s this? He’ll be here. He said to come by.”

Ronnie hung up and headed into a back room, and I could just see Lino seated at a desk, inside.

And I could just hear Ronnie say, “I told him.”

Lino nodded and said, “Close up.”

Ronnie came back out and clapped his hands. “Okay -- good night, everybody. Clear out.”

People got up and headed home. Ronnie motioned for me to wait till the club was empty, then he handed over the car keys.

“Stay right by the phone. I don’t wanna bother your folks. And really, you don’t hear from me by midnight? Hit the sack.”

I nodded and headed out the door and crossed the street and the only red car with a black vinyl roof was a beautiful brand new GTO. Man, this a killer piece of metal, with twin scoops on the hood, hood-mounted tach, and hidden headlights. I got in, slowly, like I was going to church, and breathed in that new car smell, then gave the beast a good looking over. Power steering and brakes. AM-FM Stereo radio with an 8-track. Cruise control.

I started her up and the engine thrummed to life. Deep and ready. Probably a 455. Whooh, that convinced me -- he was doing good. I’d thought he was blowing smoke when he started talking about getting his own place in one of the new high-rises going up, ‘cause they won’t be cheap. But now? What was I doing at a job that wouldn’t even pay me enough to buy a second-hand house in Hoboken?

Thing was, my dad was harsh on me even thinking about going on record. He’d worked hard his whole life and had a good reputation as an honest man, had the kind of respect that’s earned instead of comes from fear or need or greed. And he wanted that for me, too. Him and my mom and my sisters. They’d drilled it into me that I didn’t need to go that way. So if I took this step, it’d break all their hearts. Crush them. I was the only son, and all their dreams for me would be gone down a drain.

But then I thought about where we had to live my whole life -- a third floor walk-up where you could hear the neighbors arguing and kids screaming as they played on the street or in the halls and no trees worth anything and no grass at all, except at the projects, and then you had to deal with all kinds of other stuff. Pipes knocking to keep you awake. Garbage trucks being your alarm clock at five am.

It was the same for my aunt and uncle up in Harlem, with Fredo. They couldn’t afford to live anyplace else, so their whole world was built around retiring to Florida, with a little condo near the beach where they could slowly die as they watched the ocean. So my cousin, Fredo, was doing his own thing to keep that from happening to him, and like I said, he’d been flashing nice wads, lately. But by now I had a pretty good idea what that was all about, meaning we just didn’t talk about it.

What’s funny is, this was all an argument my head was having; my heart didn’t enter into these thoughts at all. Not once. What Louisa might think didn’t figure. I knew she’d back me up no matter what I did, and I wouldn’t have to tell her everything that happened. I’d just have to be the kind of guy who can keep his own secrets. That wouldn’t be a problem. My dad still thinks getting me on with Patty’s was the perfect answer to getting me away from Mickey’s life. It was almost funny, ‘cause here I was right back to that, as if I was meant to be there.

I dunno if I believe in fate. If you’ve got your life written out for you and no matter what you do, you wind up right where you were meant to be, even if you weren’t planning to go there. But still...

A new Cadillac sedan passed me and double-parked in front of the club, jolting me out of my thoughts. I put the GTO in gear and pulled up the street, going slow so I could watch the Caddy in the outside mirror...and I got a great view of this massive side of beef getting out from behind the wheel, wearing a camelhair coat and shoes that gleamed in the light from the street lamps. I knew who he was straight off -- Frankie Bats, one of those vicious guys that hits first and asks what you’ve done wrong after. He strutted around the Caddy as his bodyguard got out, an even bigger side of beef who was probably a former boxer, the way his face looked all mashed up. He stopped and took in a deep breath, then Ronnie opened the club’s door and they strutted right in like they were royalty.

Frankie Bats. He was uptown. Who’d of expected him down around here? This did not bode well, so I drove off.

When I got home, the place was dark except for a light in the kitchen. I liked it like that. It made it easier to just sit in a chair by the phone and not think, for a while. I tried to be quiet as I got a beer from the fridge, but I still heard mom call from her bedroom, “Vinnie?”

“Yeah, mom. Sorry I woke you.”

“Are you working, tomorrow?”

“Yeah. See you in the morning.”

I sat in the chair, sipping from the beer, thinking, wondering what was going on at Lino’s club, right then. Because something about Frankie Bats’ coming-on-hard strut and the bodyguard breezing in and the fact the club closed half an hour early made me wary. Man, I could just see what was gonna happen.

Ronnie was all polite and led the guys to the office door then motioned for them to enter and returned to the bar, letting Frankie and his Bodyguard strut right in, all full of themselves and sure they were in control.

Lino was seated behind his desk and didn’t get up to greet them. That would indicate weakness, and it was obvious their attitude meant nothing but trouble. Besides, Lino never cared about standing on formalities. So Frankie and his boy kept standing, to keep in control.

So -- what would a guy like Frankie want that Lino might have? Well, seeing as how Lino and Dante’d both moved up the ranks now that Big Joey was in Attica, they probably split all his old contacts. Meaning, only one thing made sense.

“Here’s the deal,” Frankie said. “You got a judge on the pad. We want direct contact.”

Of course, Lino stood up and got just as hard right back at him. “You kiddin’ me? My people only deal with me.”

“He’ll deal with me if I approach him right."

“Cut the shit, Frankie! We got everything set up, here. You need help with something, you go through me, like everybody else.”

“And keep makin’ you rich? Fuck that. You don’t share, maybe nobody got him.”

“You’re a fuckin’ idiot,” Lino said then yanked out a pistol and shot the bodyguard before he blew Frankie away. Bam, bam, bam, bam, like that kid on the “Flintstones” cartoon, before he stormed around the desk and shot each man in the head to make sure. Back room. Thick walls. Nobody’d hear a thing. And even if they did, even if they knew exactly what was happening, they’d just shrug it off as business that’s between those guys and nobody else.

Of course, all of this was just conjecture on my part, because it would be a major violation of good manners. You don’t invite a rival over to talk business then scatter his brains all over your floor, not if you don’t want to start a war up. Or...unless you got the okay from higher up. Something like, “This guy, Frankie Bats, he’s causing too much trouble. Thinks he’s gonna tell us what to do.” And Lino’d been given the job because he really did not give a damn.

Oh, man. That was not what I wanted to be thinking about. I kept sitting in the chair in the dark, watching the phone, a fresh beer bottle pressed to my temple. It was a quarter past eleven, and I was getting nervous. What if that was what happened? What if this was what Ronnie’d got himself into, now? He’d always been more of a hard-ass than me, a nose-to-nose kind of guy who wouldn’t take anything off anybody. But me? My feeling was always, Why fight it if you can work around it? Like with that idiot, Cisco. Yet here I was aiming to do backup to Ronnie when I had no idea what I was backing him up for. Could I do this? Really?

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