Authors: Peter Blauner
Tags: #Hard Case Crime
“HE ALWAYS OUT
this late?” asked Teddy.
His niece Carla filed her nails nervously and leaned against the refrigerator. “I think he’s been working onna couple of business things,” she said, “and they been taking up a lot of his time.”
“Well he better come back soon. I got a job for him.”
Vin sat at the kitchen table, making percolating sounds, like a belligerent coffeepot. Teddy looked at the clock on the stove. It was past ten-thirty and Anthony still hadn’t shown up, so they could warn him about Nick DiGregorio. Carla, who was almost six months pregnant, tapped her foot and pulled the belt on her yellow bathrobe. Pieces of tinfoil were twisted into her hair as part of her color treatment.
Even with her swollen stomach, she looked like a little girl to Teddy. Could it be eighteen years had gone by since she was wearing pigtails and playing on the jungle gym in the backyard with his Charlie? Now Charlie was buried in Brigantine and she was married to this kid Anthony, who found a different way to get on Teddy’s nerves every day.
“I hope you’re not covering up for him or anything.” Teddy sniffed the vague cat odor in the walls.
“I’m not.” Carla shook her head and the tinfoil rustled like Christmas tinsel.
“Because if I ever find out he’s not doing right by you, that’ll be the end of him.” He cut the air with the flat of his hand.
Vin began cracking his knuckles again. The kids were in the other room, still watching television. Some sexy show where the lawyers were all good-looking and worried about ethics.
“Look.” Carla hugged herself. “Everything’s fine. It’s not any of anybody’s business.”
“How can you tell me it’s not any of my business?” Teddy dropped his hands to his sides. His thighs still felt sticky from the soda Nick poured on him. “You’re my favorite niece. I love you like I loved my own children.”
“That’s real nice, Uncle Ted.” Carla raised her chin, like she was ready for a fight.
“Nobody’s trying to butt in,” said Vin, playing peacekeeper again. “We just came over here to tell you to be careful.”
“Why?” Carla dropped a protective hand over the baby in her stomach. “What’s going to happen?”
“Nothing.” Teddy perused the kitchen cabinets. He looked over at his niece. “Say, you got anything for dessert?”
“I think there’s still some Jell-O left in the refrigerator,” said Carla, her mouth scrunched up and her eyes shifting. All this scrutiny made her uncomfortable.
“How ’bout a little grappa to wash it down?”
“Hey, Uncle Ted,” she said, bumping against the refrigerator. “Is Aunt Camille starving you or something? I thought you were trying to lose weight.”
Teddy waved for her to move out of the way so he could look in the refrigerator for himself.
Just lately, the hunger had been worse. When he tried to fill it, there was a pain. For some reason, he couldn’t eat enough anymore and he wasn’t sure why.
He fixed himself a bowl of strawberry Jell-O and sat down at the kitchen table across from Vin. His chubby right arm curled around the bowl protectively, a habit he’d learned in the reform school mess hall, where other boys made a sport out of stealing his lunch.
Carla put her nail file down and brushed a stray piece of foil off her shoulder. “Why do I have to be careful?”
“You should always be careful,” said Vin, lighting a cigarette and putting his feet up on the kitchen table. “It’s a dangerous world out there.”
Teddy stopped eating for a moment and reached inside his jacket. He took out the .38 caliber revolver that Larry DiGregorio had fired at Vin and set it down on the kitchen table. “There,” he said. “If anybody tries to give you a problem, you show ’em that.”
Carla’s mouth formed a perfect O of horror. “What the fuck are youse two doing?!” she cried out. “I got children in this house! I don’t want any guns around here!”
Teddy frowned and went back to eating. “Carla,” he said, letting the Jell-O gush along the gutters inside his cheeks. “I don’t got any son to succeed me and my own daughter’s feebleminded. I know you’re only the girl in the family, but it’s up to you to look after yourself sometimes. I’m sorry it has to be that way, but maybe if you’d married a real man of respect, things could be different.”
Carla was still looking at the gun like it was a poisonous snake on her kitchen table. “Get rid of that fuckin’ thing! I don’t want little Anthony playing with it!”
Ted looked over at Vin, who took the gun and hid it in the red flour can on Carla’s counter. Carla watched him, trying to decide whether she should protest any further.
“Maybe I’ll send Richie over,” Teddy said to Vin, who was taking a long drag on his cigarette. “He can sit here in the kitchen and make sure nothing happens.”
“Oh no,” said Carla, forgetting the gun and wagging her head furiously. “I am not having Richie Amato in my house.”
“Don’t you remember?” She put her hands on her hips. “I used to go with Richie. You wouldn’t treat a dog the way he treated me. Whatever bad you can say about Anthony, at least he ain’t Richie.”
She looked over at Vin, who was sitting down and putting his feet back up on the kitchen table. “Hey, get your damn feet down and stop smoking in here. Don’t you know I’m pregnant?”
Vin took his feet off the table and grabbed an empty beer can out of the garbage, so he could put his cigarette out in it.
Teddy was looking up at the little peels of paint that looked like fish gills on the ceiling over his head. “Youknow you could use a paint job in here,” he said. “You sure that Anthony’s providing for you?”
“He provides,” said Carla, going to get a glass of water.
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“What do you want me to do, Uncle Ted?” She whirled around to glare at him and the tinfoil in her hair made a soft
sound. “Walk out on him? With two kids and another on the way?” Her pale hands and red fingernails flew up in dismay. “What choice do I have? I can’t just pack up and leave. Either I make my marriage work or the roof caves in. So don’t go talking subversive to me, Uncle Ted.”
“Where do you get a word like that?”
“I heard it from Anthony,” she said, without embarrassment. “So don’t try turning me against him. I got too many responsibilities depending on him.”
“I still say he’s a bum,” Teddy muttered under his breath.
“And I say you don’t know him,” Carla lashed back, her face turning red. “Anthony was the only boy who’d talk to me in high school and we pledged our love. We may be having our problems now, but we’ll work them out. And if we can’t, I’ll be the one to take care of it.”
She glanced over at the flour can where Vin had left the gun. Teddy stood up and started to put his arms around her, but there was too much flesh between them.
“Carla, you’re a very special girl,” he said. “Any man who doesn’t appreciate you, doesn’t deserve to be around himself.”
I FORGOT ABOUT FINDING
a bar and took Rosemary back to the Family’s stash house in Marvin Gardens. The apartment was empty that night, though you never knew when somebody was going to come by to drop off some money or pick up a gun. The white shag carpet fired off little static shocks as I walked in.
Rosemary took a look around the place and saw the bar next to the kitchen, the wall with the mirrors on it, and the black leather couch from Dave D.’s that folded out into a bed. The lamps all had identical bulb-shaped bodies and shades thick as plaster. The door to the other room was opened just enough so you could see some of the swag stored in there. My father had just gotten in a shipment of Iranian pistachio nuts and Nigerian hand soap from someone he knew in New York. I hoped Rosemary wouldn’t ask me about any of it. She was probably already thinking it’d been years since a woman had a say in how the place looked.
“Let’s go for a walk on the Boardwalk,” she said abruptly.
It was a beautiful night, with a soft breeze coming off the ocean and amusement park lights blazing from the other end of the Boardwalk, but I hardly noticed it. I was too busy thinking about all the things that had happened since my father killed Larry. Now I had Nicky coming after me and my family. I figured that he wouldn’t do anything right away. It would be better to wait and torture me. But I knew I had to get my wife and kids out of the house soon to protect them.
“Hey,” said Rosemary. “Are you a made guy?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
We walked along quietly for a couple of minutes as a light from a Coast Guard ship cut through the fog on the water.
“You know, I always thought you had to be Sicilian to be a made guy,” she said. “You don’t look like any Sicilian to me.”
“How come you know so much about it?”
“I read books. Just because I dance doesn’t mean I can’t read.”
“My father now,” I told her, “he’s Sicilian.”
“What do you mean, ‘my father now’?” She stopped walking. “Isn’t he your real father?”
“You know, it’s very rude asking questions like that. Something could happen if you ask too many questions.”
“Oh, I am so scared.” She opened her eyes wide.
“I mean, how would you like it if I started asking questions like that?”
“Go ahead.” She opened her arms and the wind riffled through the light hair in her armpits. “Ask away. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“All right,” I said, seeing that she was trying to provoke me anyway. “How did you know a blow job cost twenty-five dollars when we were talking about it before?”
“Because I used to be a hooker,” she told me matter-of-factly.
I just looked out at the ocean. A tide was sweeping over the beach like a strong white arm.
“Whooaa,” I said.
“Are you surprised?”
“It was just for a little while.” She joined me at the steel railing. “And I do not have AIDS, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve been tested.”
“Yeah, but how’d you end up doing a thing like that in the first place? I mean, you don’t seem like a skeezer.”
She sighed and brushed back her dyed-blond hair. “You know, you fall into these things a little bit at a time. I think a lot of it had to do with my second kid.”
Now I was really confused. She’d only shown me the picture of one little girl. “Who was your second kid?”
“The one that didn’t make it.” Her lower lip came up like a gate protecting the rest of her face. “She was born too soon. I always used to blame my husband, Bingo, because he was a heroin addict, but I wasn’t really taking care of myself in those days either. We were going to call her Melissa. Anyway, we were waiting in the hospital four days after she was born to see if she’d make it. She was a preemie and she had some terrible blood infection, you know.”
She sniffed. “I used to go to N.I.C.U. and look at her under the bilirubin lights with all those tubes running in and out of her.” She paused. “She was so little and helpless in that little glass box. It was hard to believe she was real. And I remember this sign up on the wall:
BABIES ARE GOD’S WAY OF EXPRESSING HIS OPINION THAT THE WORLD SHOULD GO ON
. So I made a deal with God. That if he let her live, I’d make my life over and be good all the time.”
Her jaw got tight. “And then he let her die,” she said quietly.
It was scary watching her talk about it, because she didn’t do anything dramatic like start to cry or put her face in her hands. She just stood there, with her body getting more and more tense, from trying to keep it all inside. It was like watching someone tear themselves apart without moving a muscle.
“So after that, I said fuck it.” She gripped the steel railing. “I couldn’t kill myself or let my life go all to hell, because I already had Kimmy to look after. So I just decided I’d do whatever I had to to get by and be there for her, but I just wouldn’t feel anything about it. And after that, you’ll put up with anything. I mean, if you can stand having a junkie for a husband, it’s not that far to turning tricks to support his habit and feed your kid.”
“I guess it isn’t if you don’t give a shit about anything,” I told her.
She forced herself to smile. “You know what’s funny? I used to have a whole other idea about how my life would turn out. I had all these aspirations. I thought I could be an actress or a teacher. Something where I’d get to perform. For a while, I even thought about becoming a hand and foot model, so I could be in one of those J.C. Penney catalogs.”
She had very nice hands. I hadn’t really noticed her feet.
“So do you do that anymore?” I asked. “Turning tricks, I mean.”
“No.” She frowned. “But don’t think there aren’t still people asking. The night after you stopped by, I had a guy offer me five hundred dollars to sleep with him.”
“No shit,” I said. “Who was he? A lawyer?”
“Uh-uh.” She bent her left knee and her high heel dangled off the end of her foot. “He was a fighter. I figured you might know him. His name was Terrence something.”
“Terrence Mulvehill!” My heart jumped like a fish on a line. “That’s the guy. That’s the champ. I’m trying to set it up so my guy Elijah will fight him.”
“Whatever.” Rosemary pursed her lips. “He was very nice about it when I said I wouldn’t sleep with him. And he tipped me a hundred and fifty bucks because I danced for him.”
“He gave one-fifty just to watch you dance?!” It was the first thing she’d said that I didn’t believe.
“Some people consider it an art form.”
When I started to laugh, she scowled. “Do not go judging me, Mr. Mafia. I see you’re here with me and you’ve still got a wedding band on.”
I stuck my left hand in my pocket. For all the fighting we’d done lately, I still wanted to do right by Carla and the kids. But our marriage was killing me. If things stayed the same, I’d not only never leave Atlantic City, I’d probably end up going to jail because of something her uncle got me involved in.
In the meantime, Rosemary was patting my hand on the Boardwalk railing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. Like I said before, none of us have lived a perfect life.”
That was what I liked about Rosemary. She’d been places. She wasn’t going to just dry up and waste the rest of her life in some obscure corner.
“Hey, I don’t even mind that you’re in the Mafia,” she said. “I could probably use the muscle sometime, being a single mother and all. ..”
“I already told you I’m not in the mob.” Though it was a hard argument to make after she’d seen the talk I’d had with Nicky.
“All right, have it your way,” she said with that crooked smile. “I wouldn’t mind it if you weren’t in the Mafia either. I think a lot of those guys are faggots anyway. The way they’re always kissing each other and worrying about their hair and nails.”
I looked down at her hand resting next to mine on the Boardwalk railing. It was a gorgeous hand, as smooth and white as marble. I could see why someone might use it in a catalog. I decided that if she didn’t move it in a couple of seconds, I’d stay.
“So are you a faggot?” she asked.
“What do you think?”
She looked at the top of my head. “I don’t know,” she said, keeping her hand where it was. “You got pretty nice hair.”
I took her by the shoulders and mashed my mouth into hers. When she started to resist, I used the weight of my body to push her up against the Boardwalk railing.
Then all of a sudden she wasn’t resisting anymore. I felt her grabbing hold of me. It’d been years since Carla held me like that. I’d gotten used to her just lying there, barely tolerating the things I tried to do. But Rosemary was different. She put her tongue right in my mouth, like she knew just what she wanted. Other guys in the Family said they didn’t like it when women got too aggressive, but here I was with maybe the biggest hard-on of my life and we were only just getting started.
The thing had a mind of its own. She reached down to touch it and I heard her moan a little. It felt as though I was holding a club between my legs. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go waddling down the Boardwalk with the front of my pants sticking out when it came time to go back to the car.
“Still scared?” she murmured.
“No, but I guess you are, you keep asking.”
Her eyes lit up and she did something that truly surprised me. She spit on her hand and reached under her skirt, so I could see she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
She touched herself as nonchalantly as a garage mechanic changing a tire. That should’ve sent me running home, but it didn’t. Blood was pumping straight from my heart to my cock.
Before I knew it, she had my zipper down and her skirt up. “Who’s scared now?” she was asking in a tranced-out voice. “Who’s scared now?”
She was crazy, I realized, as crazy as my father or any of the other hit men I’d known. But before I could say anything about it, she had my cock in her hand and she was guiding it quickly and easily into her. More easily than it ever went into Carla in eight years of marriage. This was different. My cock seemed to go right into the deepest part of Rosemary right away. She felt incredibly hot inside. Not just warm, but blazing like she had a boiler going. It made me think of the oath made members of the Family take: “May I burn like the saints in the fires of hell should I ever betray my friends.”
She turned me around and straddled me, so she faced the ocean and her legs hooked through the middle railing. Then she started grinding down on me. If anybody who knew Teddy or my wife saw me doing this on the Boardwalk I’d be a dead man, for sure. But the thought of death just made me fuck harder.
A seagull’s cry merged with Rosemary’s voice, asking me to give her more. If I wasn’t careful I was going to come too soon, so I tried thinking about other things.
Coffee grounds in a white garbage bag. Ice hockey. My wife’s couch in the living room. Nose hair. The way Nicky looked at me. My son’s Ninja Turtles. Smell Michelangelo.
Rosemary licked my ear and I picked her up and turned her the other way, so now I was the one facing the ocean. Thick foamy waves pounded into the shore. I looked down the Boardwalk to where the amusement pier was still going strong. I could see the green-and-yellow neon of the Ferris wheel and the switchbacks forming bold patterns against the stark black sky.
It wasn’t doing any good. Rosemary’s pussy kept getting hotter and wetter. Her voice was crying out like she was starting to come. The seagulls screeched back at her. She dug her nails through the back of my pants and into the cheeks of my ass as she drew me on and on. I felt the juice creeping up toward the tip of my cock like mercury rising in a thermometer.
“Please,” said Rosemary. “Please don’t stop.”
I exploded inside of her. The first shot was like a cannon blast, but the second was just as strong. The third didn’t have quite as much force, but the payload was just as big. And so it went with Rosemary holding on for dear life, until I was just spent and hollow.
Over her shoulder, I watched the waves roll away from the shore, carrying the sand and empty Budweiser cans out to the sea and the rest of the world.
Then I closed my eyes and my wife Carla’s face came to me, with her sad eyes and her full disappointed lips. And when I thought about her I felt an overwhelming sadness that made me want to fall to my knees and cry.
Not just because I’d let her down or betrayed her, but because after all this time and all these years, I finally knew what I’d been missing.