New from Anne Carey, Coming Soon!
When being loyal to the family means either kill or be killed, coming of age presents some extra challenges. Pulled into “the life” of the Detroit Mafia against his will, Antonio Francesco Gianolla, Jr. better known as Tony, faces a choice…swim with the sharks or swim with the fishes.
Excerpt, Nobody Here but us Chickens
2017, THE YEAR OF THE ROOSTER
The rooster gets started, crowing before dawn, cutting into my dream about blood. Half awake, I try recalling it. I stand in the middle of a blood bath, a smoking gun in my hand. Everyone else lies there bleeding, dying. Even though, in reality, all of them died one by one over the years. Blood covers everything, my feet planted in a river of it, with me the sole survivor. The remnants of the dream evaporate, leaving me with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
The rooster keeps at it, so I bury my head under my pillow but it doesn’t muffle him enough to let me drift back off. Cock-a-doodle-doo, he announces right beneath my bedroom window. I pull my head out and peek at the clock. “Four-fucking-thirty. This is war. Today I strangle the bastard with my bare hands,” I gripe at the empty pillow beside me.
I drag myself out of bed, putting on my silk robe and stepping into my sheepskin slippers before making my way into the kitchen. Morning always finds me a bit stiff but after I get moving, the aching in my joints eases up enough to let me go about my day mostly pain free. At this point in my life, it’s more than I deserve in some ways and in other ways, less than I might settle for.
What can a guy do? It is what it is, as they say these days. One of the dumbest fucking expressions of all time. The popularity of it rests on the shoulders of this next generation. Spoiled senseless and full of self-entitlement, none of them takes responsibility for anything. Nothing’s their fault, it is what it is, my ass. Back in the day, none of us would be caught dead putting up with punks like this.
I flip on the light and see my beautiful wife, Ah Cy in the Lazy-boy recliner in one corner of the living room. An open book rests on her lap. Her mouth is open too, with her glasses halfway down her nose. She snores as I bang around the kitchen getting a pot of coffee started. Then she lets out a snort, waking with a start.
“Good morning, Sunshine,” I say in a sarcastic tone. Up until last week, I called her the Motor City Cobra. But using former nicknames is now out, hence, her new one. What does it matter, at fifty-six years old, none of her original pet names fit: Asian Spice, pole artiste, peeler, wild hen.
Our undercover identities are a joke, so I had to come up with something. Ah Cy Chee looks nothing like a Maybelle Lee Hart Bovall. She’s one hundred percent Chinese. And I’m way too Sicilian to pull off the moniker, Vernor Charles Bovall. Who comes up with these names? Someone on the feds payroll with a twisted sense of humor just like mine, that’s who.
“Shut off light you son-of-ah-bitch. You wake me up in middle of dream. Fabio making love to me in surf of white sand beach,” Ah Cy bitches. Then she pulls the afghan up over her shoulder and turns away from the light.
I woke her up? What, the rooster isn’t doing his job well enough? Besides everyone knows Fabio’s a faggot, her and those silly romance novels of hers. Why, I oughtta do her next right after I kill that fucking rooster, I think. Then I remind myself, do not kill people no more. Living by the book and laying low increases my chance of survival. So I switch off the light for Ah Cy, since my coffees already brewing.
My enchanting wife gets up and goes back to bed, immune to the rooster. I put on my rubber galoshes and pour myself a mug of coffee, taking it into the yard. The flock of chicken’s swarm me as I scatter some seed, noticing ten, no eleven yellow peeps. More eggs hatched overnight. The chickens are out of control, breeding faster than rabbits. Sunshine and I can’t consume enough eggs per day to keep their numbers at bay.
I sit down in one of the white-washed rocking chairs on the wide wrap around porch, sipping my coffee and watching the sun pull itself up over the horizon. The chickens fight over their feed, pecking at one another and making the babies squawk. Those little yellow fluffs look innocent enough but by nature, they’re carnivores and cannibals…vicious little bastards.
That’s when it hits me. I’ll start with the rooster and wring all their necks. Then I’ll sell organic, free-range chicken to the health conscious, power couples moving into all the cookie-cutter mc-mansions slapped together by shifty developers gobbling up the land from struggling farmers.
Wringing necks and cleaning up blood, two things that come easy these days. At sixty-five, I’ve got more experience than I’ll ever admit. I better figure out something to do. One week of forced retirement, and already I’m bored out of my fucking mind.
So, this is what my life comes down to? Stuck with Sunshine in a loveless marriage after thirty-five years, exiled and relocated to the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed chicken farmer here in Hoe Dunk, U.S.A, I think, shaking my head.
What a chicken. Yeah, I’m talking about me. Poetic justice, right. Was there something I missed? Anything I might have done differently to keep from ending up here, I wonder, looking back…
1967, YEAR OF THE SHEEP
In a nation divided by rightwing conservatives backing the Vietnam War and the new generation of peace, love, and hippy-ness, racial tensions rock the city of Detroit. In the early morning hours of July 23rd, the cops raid the Blind Pig, an unlicensed, after hours’ bar. The sheep fight back, sparking the Twelfth Street Riot. The 1967 Detroit Race Riots explode into five full days of violence, arson, and looting…the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States.
1968, YEAR OF THE MONKEY
Almost a year later, the City of Detroit seems to be moving past the riots, with most Michiganders getting on with their lives. With the exception of the thirty-three dead Negros and ten dead Caucasians, casualties of the carnage. What Detroit needs right about now is some good news.
The Tigers lose their season opener to the Boston Red Sox. Disappointed by their sorry start, I turn off the radio. Then I squeeze into the custom monkey suit my father ordered John-the-Tailor to make for me, if for no other reason than to shut my mother up. I do a ton of weight lifting, meaning my neck is too thick for a dress shirt and tie. I scratch underneath my collar, tugging at it and wishing it wasn’t so tight.
My only other concern on this cool, clear spring evening is keeping the liquid cover-up I stole from Ma’s makeup vanity on top of the purple hickey on my neck. I get hard just thinking about Colleen Murphy’s sweet lips. Since stealing one another’s virginity a few months back, we screw every chance we get.
At sixteen years old, I’d rather be out partying with my gang of friends from the block, chugging beer and smoking weed and having more sex with Colleen Murphy. Except, with all of them being Catholic, it means each and every one of them is suffering through a similar confirmation party right now, along with their own set of dysfunctional family members.
I never wanted a confirmation in the first place, let alone the celebration. Catholics and their rituals, what can you do? Besides who says no to my father? Nobody, I know.
My father, Antonio Francesco Gianolla, Senior considers himself a devout Catholic, yet he resists every attempt to get him inside of a church. Even though he insists Ma and I to go to mass every Sunday. Then he bullies me into every one of these religious rites of passage: baptism, first communion, confession, catechism, confirmation. I foresee a huge Italian-Catholic wedding in my future, with a Sicilian-American bride of my father’s liking.
I step up to the buffet, looking over all the food. Grandma Gianolla hobbles up to the table, standing beside me. A whiner from way back, she’s perfected the art of complaining to get her way. “You eat,” she says in her thick Italian accent.
“I’m not very hungry, Grandma G,” I tell her.
Thwap, she knuckles me upside the head, “What’s a matter for you, Tony? You don’t like my cooking?” She asks.
“Geez, I’m just not hungry is all,” I tell her, rubbing my noggin.
“Ma, go easy on the kid, huh. Everyone loves your cooking. You know that right,” my father reassures her, coming to my rescue. He’s one of those guys who takes command of every situation, shutting down those around him, including his Mother. Forget the whack to the head, if he figures out I’m banging an Irish girl from the less fortunate side of town he’ll knock it right off my shoulders. Can she help it if her fathers a falling down, good for nothing drunk who guzzles away every cent?
“Antonio Francesco Gianolla Junior, you little son-of-a-bitch, come here and give me a great, big hug,” Uncle Leonardo, Leo for short, calls out when he sees me. Even though I stand a few inches taller at six-foot-two.
A hulking man with curly salt-and-pepper hair, compared with my lean build and straight, jet-black hair, we share the same olive-colored complexion just like everyone else in the family. Uncle Leo bronzes his during his annual trip to Florida, making his teeth look whiter when he smiles. He has intense brown eyes, the kind that bore right through you, to the bottom of your soul.
He pulls me into his meaty arms, squeezing the breath out of me. Then releases me, smacking me on the back. “See this kid here,” he says, grabbing me around the shoulder and digging his thick fingers into my bicep, “Keep an eye on him, he’s going places,” he adds, shaking me.
The Tigers bounce back, winning nine games in a row and earning a first place ranking. In The Year of the Pitcher, Denny McLain keeps winning games at a notable rate. At twenty-four years old, McLain becomes Major League Baseball’s first thirty game sensation since 1934. Dizzy Dean, the previous title holder, is there to honor him. Following his thirty-first win, the American League names Denny McLain the Most Valuable Player of 1968. McLain also wins the Cy Young Award.
In the pennant race, the Tigers crush the Baltimore Orioles, moving on to the World Series. The defending Saint Louis Cardinal champions dominate, taking a three to one game lead. Odds of a Tiger victory seem slim but they claw their way back, winning the next two games. The 1968 World Series is tied up at three games apiece. In the seventh and final game, the Tigers roar to victory.
Michigan loves its underdogs. The City of Detroit and the surrounding suburbs go ballistic, celebrating their champions, the Detroit Tigers at a level only Michiganders know how to achieve.
1970, YEAR OF THE DOG
How easy is it to go from being top dog to being in the dog house? Just ask my hero, Denny McLain. In February, the media accuses him of a love affair with horse racing and calls him out for bookmaking. Rumors circulate about his ’67 injury being inflicted by a Mafioso stomping on his foot and dislocating his toes for failing to pay out a winning $46,000 bet. The baseball commissioner suspends McLain indefinitely, before reducing him to sitting out the first three months of the season.
In March, I receive my letter of acceptance from the University of Chicago. I’ll be the first one in my family to attend college. Over Labor Day weekend, I’ll leave my childhood home behind, moving into a small apartment near campus with my parent’s blessing.
After I get my bachelors degree in Political Science, I’ll apply to the University of Chicago Law School. I plan on becoming a criminal defense attorney. My career choice thrillsmy father. I figure he must lookat it likeinsurance.
Why the University of Chicago? Because Colleen Murphy won a scholarship there. Besides moving together, we share the same goal. Colleen plans on becoming a criminal defense attorney, too.
In June, I graduate, cum laude, from West Bloomfield High School, in the top ten percent of my graduating class of eight hundred twenty-six students. Colleen Murphy graduates from Bloomfield High School, five miles away but out does me, graduating summa cum laude, at the very top of her class of eight hundred fifty-nine students.
We both intend to spend one last summer at home with our parents. I look forward to a few carefree months with my family before moving away for good. Tired of living with her alcoholic father, Colleen makes herself scarce, working two jobs to stay away from her house as much as possible, while saving up for the future. She counts down the days until we leave.
On the first of July, two things happen. The federal government holds its second Vietnam War draft lottery for men born in 1951, also known as the 1971 draft. I get lucky, my birth date of December 12th, 1951 pulls a high number. The odds of getting called up for military service next year remain slight. Secondly, Denny McLain returns to the mound and struggles with his pitching.
In August, McLain douses two sports writers with buckets of water. He receives a second, seven-day suspension, followed by a third for packing a handgun on a team flight. The baseball commissioner benches him for the remainder of the season. The Detroit Tigers first $100,000 player, Denny McLain finishes the season three to five, and then files for bankruptcy.
Without the baseball commissioner’s approval, Detroit trades McLain while he’s on suspension. The Commissioner calls it a,potential Tiger heist and a foolish gamble. I doubt that he’slaughing at his unintended pun.
Summer vacation winds down. I’m all set to leave for the University of Chicago with Colleen Murphy, when it happens. A single bullet blasted into my father’s skull blows my whole world apart. Life as I know it ends.
When big guys fall, they fall hard.
At the wake after his funeral, Uncle Leo takes me aside, grabbing me around the shoulder and telling me, “Antonio Senior, my older brother, and your father, never wanted you involved in the family business. He wanted you to go to law school and make more of yourself, Tony. He wanted you to rise above what he considered the scum bags making up this family, even though he was the head scum.”
“I know, Uncle Leo. I’m leaving for the University of Chicago in a few days,” I tell him, without mentioning Colleen Murphy’s coming along, too.
“All the same, you know what you gotta do, right Tony?”
“Like I said, Uncle Leo, I’m leaving for the University of Chicago.”
“Somebody’s gotta take care of your mother. Her Multiple Sclerosis is worse. For Christ sakes, Tony, the doctor just sentenced her to life in a wheelchair.”
“Look, Uncle Leo, I don’t mean to be disrespectful…”
“Tony, it’s not gonna be me who takes care of her for you. Now that your father’s gone, your mother, is your responsibility.”
“Uncle Leo, I’m begging you.”
“Right after you take care of Gaetano Adamo, the son of a bitch who ordered the hit on him.”
“Uncle Leo, you don’t understand…”
“No you don’t understand, Tony,” He barks, cutting me off, red in the face. “No more playing around with school books. Time to grow up, become a man.”
“Look, Uncle Leo…”
“No, you look here kid. No one ever said no to your father but I seized control of the Gianolla family operations after he died. I’m in charge now. So you do what you gotta do, Tony and don’t think you can get away with saying no to me.”
“I’m begging you Uncle Leo, don’t ask me this.”
“I always knew you was going places kid, now’s your chance to prove it. Don’t let me down,” he says before walking away and leaving me standing there all alone.
There are four of us. My father’s right hand man, Joseph Cellura, now Leo’s right hand man, my older cousin and Leo’s son, Carlo, my other Uncle, Grandma G’s youngest boy, Angelo, and me. Being the baby in the family, Uncle Angelo is a natural born follower. The kind of guy, who’s more comfortable taking orders than having to make choices for himself.
Sitting around the table in Joe’s kitchen the day after we bury my father, we drink beer and play poker. Joe’s the type of guy who makes a habit of seeing the sunny side of every situation. He tries lifting my spirits with his corny jokes and goofy puns. Then he starts in on funny anecdotes about my dad growing up. The four of us share a few laughs before the conversation turns serious.
“Look, the IRS is due to pay Gaetano Adamo a visit any day. We’re going into his office as tax auditors. Thanks to that sweet piece of ass, he calls a secretary, he didn’t suspect nothing when she fudged the date and told him the IRS men are coming in tomorrow,” Joe says, shuffling the cards as he lays out the plan for us.
He deals five cards to each of us one at a time. I pick mine up, holding them with both hands so the guys don’t see me shaking. Joe reaches in the top drawer of the china cabinet behind him, grabbing an ice pick and setting it down on top of the poker chips in the middle of the table. “Kid, this is what you’re gonna use to do Gaetano in. You pay that son-of-a-bitch back for robbing you and your mother of your father and spoiling the life you planned for yourself.”
“You’re fucking kiddin’ me right,” I reply, panic setting in after hearing Joe’s plan and seeing the ice pick.
“Look, I slap a piece of duct tape over his big mouth while Carlo and Angelo here hold him down. Then you plunge that ice pick deep as you can inside his ear,” Joe says, staring at me hard from across the table.
“An ice pick, Joe.” I say, letting out a nervous laugh.
“Look kid, I’m serious. You’re all muscle, a bull. All you gotta do is shove the pick in until it punctures his brain and just like that it’s over. No gun, no noise, no commotion. Capeesh? This way no one’s the wiser and we make our way out of his office same way we came in, on the down low,” Joe says, smiling at me as Carlo and Angelo nod their heads in agreement.
I toss and turn unable to sleep. I’m still in shock over losing my father, and now this. The job the familia expects of me, their order to murder, Gaetano Adamo, rival boss of another faction of the Detroit Combo and my father’s executioner. Every time I manage to drift off, I dream of my father offering me the ice pick, waking with a start. At daybreak, the alarm blares and I crawl out of bed, feeling spent.
I shower, shave, and then put on the two thousand dollar, custom black suit, John-the-Tailor made me for my father’s funeral. Along with my white dress shirt, just back from the dry cleaners. Then I go downstairs.
“So tall, dark, and handsome, my Antonio. Just look at you. You remind me of your Pop,” Grandma G says, falling back in her arm chair and bursting into tears. Ma starts sobbing her heart out, too which causes me to break down along with them. After the three of us have a good cry, Ma says, “Tony, push my wheelchair into my room. I need to lay down for a while.”
Ma doesn’t look so good. She looks even thinner than when she first got confined to the wheelchair. Her eyes have a vacant look with dark circles under them. I worry over her, pushing her into her makeshift downstairs bedroom. Up until last week, it held my father’s home office. We converted it for her, right before he died, since she can no longer navigate the stairway to and from her master bedroom.
“Tony, please pull the drapes shut tight and bring me a glass of water so I can take one of these sleeping pills,” she tells me as I help her out of the wheelchair and into bed and I do as she asks.
Before she got so sick, Ma was one of those women who never sat still, beautiful and full of nervous energy. I figure that’s what kept her so slim all these years, besides watching every bite she ate. A perfectionist, her makeup, hair, and clothes always looked their finest. “You’re a good Son,” she tells me, patting my hand and closing her eyes.
“I love you, Ma. Get some rest,” I say, kissing her on the forehead. I shut the door and go back into the family room.
“I’m afraid for your ma, Tony. After gramps passed, I no do so good for a while but nothing like this. It don’t seem like she gonna get over losing my boy. They grew up together. She been in love with him her whole life. He was her first and only raggazo. I cannot believe my first born has gone to Heaven before me,” Grandma G says, tears spilling from her eyes again. She removes her glasses, wiping them away with the handkerchief she keeps in the pocket of her house dress.
Besides complaining, Grandma G’s made a full-time job out of fretting over her family. I give her a hug, kissing the top of her pure white head, her hair drained of color from a lifetime of worry. “Maybe you talk to the doc for me, okay, Tony. When you take her next week,” she tells me.
“Okay, Grandma G. Don’t you worry about it. You hear me,” I reassure her.
She nods her head at me, letting out a deep sigh and blowing her nose in her hankie. Then she regains her composure and distracts herself from our troubles with taking care of me.
She presses my sky blue silk handkerchief, folding it nice and neat before placing it in the top pocket of my suit coat. She knots my striped silk tie with her gnarled, arthritic fingers. She pinches the crap out of both of my checks, one after the other, the same way she’s done since before I can remember. Grandma G wishes me luck with the job interview I lied to her and Ma about as I kiss her goodbye.
I drive back over to Joe’s place, filled with trepidation. I rap on his back door before opening it and walking inside to meet up with the other guys. The four of us look like we’re attending my father’s funeral all over again, or what IRS tax audit agents look like, I suppose.
Joe hands me the ice pick. I don’t want it. I don’t want to do this period. In their minds, I owe it to my father. As his only son, it’s my duty to avenge his murder. If I refuse, it means dire consequences in the form of bodily injury to my person. In their eyes, a rats the only thing worse than a chicken. It’s the oldest law in the universe…survival of the fittest. Either I kill him or they kill me.
I put the ice pick, pointed side up, into my pants pocket with my stomach doing flip flops. I take the white cotton handkerchief, Grandma G tucked in my other pocket, wiping the sweat from my brow. We pile into Joe’s long, black Cadillac. Uncle Angelo sits up front next to him. I get in the backseat with Carlo, worrying over my immediate future. Carlos seems unfazed as usual, nothing riles him. A spoiled brat since birth, he goes about his business with a sense of self-entitlement and privilege, taking advantage of his good looks and charisma.
“Carlo, how come you look like you been up all night?” Joe asks my cousin, pulling away from his house.
“I was working,” he replies.
“Working?” Uncle Angelo asks, turning around and staring at him with a puzzled look on his face.
Carlo laughs, telling us, “Yeah. I was busy banging, Teresa Stefano after our poker game last night.”
“Who’s Teresa Stefano?” I ask.
He turns to me smirking. “Don’t worry Tony. I got your back. Teresa is Gaetano’s secretary. His bodyguard is crazy for her. She’s gonna make sure he steps out to get her some pastries from the bakery around the corner, right before we get there,” he says, trying to reassure me even though nothing in the world will accomplish that.
When we get downtown, to the building holding Gaetano’s office, Joe circles the block a few times until a parking spot opens up in front of it, buying me a few extra minutes. Joe shoves some change in the parking meter, and we enter the office building through one of its revolving doors. Uncle Angelo gets stuck inside, going around twice before making his way out, giving me another minute.
My hearts pounding so hard; I hear it beating in my ears, riding the elevator up. I swipe my palms down the legs of my pants, trying to dry them. We step into Gaetano’s office, with me lagging in the rear. Teresa’s face lights up when she sees Carlo. She picks up the phone, “Mr. Adamo, the IRS tax auditors are here,” she says into the receiver, giving my cousin a big smile. He brushes her cheek with the back of his hand as we walk past her desk.
Joe opens the door. We catch Gaetano standing halfway between us and his desk with his hand out. He looks eager to greet his tax men, probably hoping to soften them up by being extra polite. I’ll never forget the surprise on his face when he sees it’s us instead. Angelo and Carlo are on him in an instant, and before I can blink, Joe’s got the duct tape plastered over his mouth.
As promised, his bodyguard is nowhere in sight. I just stand there, with my heart racing and my legs shaking. Joe gives me a little shove towards Gaetano. He screams behind the duct tape but my heart is pounding in my ears so hard; I can’t hear anything. I figure nobody else can either, thanks to the tape.
Joe nudges my shoulder again, pushing me a step closer to Gaetano, his face beet red from the screaming. I pull the ice pick out of my pocket, and panic sets in. Gaetano struggles to free himself of Angelo and Carlo, with his eyes bulging out and a look of pure terror on his face.
“I’ll teach you for taking my best friend from this world,” Joe says. “Waste this S.O.B. for ruining your life, Tony,” he orders.
I just stand there with my hand around the ice pick, frozen. “Do it now, kid,” Joe barks.
A rage like I never knew existed rears its ugly head from somewhere deep inside. This is for killing my college education. This is for costing me Colleen Murphy. This is for saddling me to my wheelchair-bound mother in my prime. This is for murdering my father. All these thoughts race through my mind as I drive the ice pick in his ear and pierce his brain.
Gaetano’s eyes blink, forcing blood from his nose and his ears. With every blink, more blood seeps out. His feet kick back and forth. His body twists and jerks in spasms. Time becomes as warped as my life. It seems like forever before he goes still and Carlo and Angelo release him. His body slumps on the floor.
Joe takes the ice pick out of my hand, wiping it clean with his handkerchief and throwing it down. I stand there looking at Gaetano, the realization of what I just did sinking in as adrenaline courses through me.
The other three start for the door. Joe turns around, grabbing my arm and pulling me forward, “Come on kid, time to get outta here,” he says. When we get up to the door, the knob turns, and it opens. There stands Gaetano’s bodyguard. He looks over at his lifeless boss, reaching for his gun.
“Hey there, Gasper,” Joe says as Carlo and Angelo tackle him. He falls flat on his back, alongside Teresa’s desk. His gun goes off. The bullet hits the ceiling as Teresa screams. Joe goes for the gun in Gasper’s hand. It fires, again. Teresa lets out another scream as she scrambles underneath her desk. Joe staggers backward, clutching his midsection. Blood colors his shirt as he sinks to the floor. Before Gasper shoots a third time, Angelo plants a bullet in the middle of his forehead.
Angelo sticks his gun in his pocket and then cradles Joe’s head in his lap. Carlo and I kneel down beside him. Joe looks at me, his eyes watering, “I didn’t think you had it in ya kid. Everything you do from here on out carries gravitas. You earned our respect,” he whispers. Then his eyes close and his body goes limp. Carlo feels for his pulse, shaking his head.
The guys stand up, hustling me out of the office. We leave Joe’s bloody body behind. We leave Teresa under her desk. Bringing her along might tip the Adamo’s off about her helping us. The three of us get in the elevator. Angelo punches the button taking us back down while Carlo and I stare at the floor without saying a word.
The elevator stops and we exit the building, rushing past Joe’s parked car since we no longer have him or his keys. Why didn’t one of think to fish them from his pocket, I wonder as I hear sirens coming closer and closer. The guys duck in-between the buildings. Rounding the corner, I look back and see cop cars screeching to a halt next to Joe’s Cadillac. Carlo grabs my arm, pulling me along.
At the end of the building, we reach the alley. Then we run full speed over to the next block, pounding on the back door of La Paisana Cucina. My mother’s cousin, Giuseppe Binaggio, opens the door. “Say, what do you think you’re doing,” he remarks as we all push past him and Angelo slams his door shut behind us. “Tony, what is going on here?” he asks in his thick Italian accent.
“How about we tell you, after you pour us a drink, Giuseppe,” Uncle Angelo says.
Giuseppe shows us to the bar. “What would you like?” He asks, before doling out the poison of our choice to each of us.
Lucky for us, him and his wife, Angela are the only ones in the place. The employees don’t come in until it gets closer to opening up for lunch. Angela comes out from her office in back. “Ciao,” she says and we all nod our heads at her.
“Angela, please you go over to Rosalia’s bakery down the street and get us some fresh rolls for lunch.”
“Rosalia’s boy already drop off the rolls, Giuseppe, but I go get you some more,” she tells him, a silent understanding passing between them. Angela leaves through the front door, locking it behind her.
“Now, you tell me what is going on Tony, will you,” Giuseppe says.
Angelo pushes his glass forward, saying, “One more drink first, Giuseppe.”
Giuseppe pours us all another drink. Then he goes over to the hulking espresso machine against the back wall of the restaurant and makes himself a cappuccino. He carries his cup over to the large family table tucked in a back corner, at the end of the bar. He sits down, waving us over. We join him at the table with our drinks and Uncle Angelo tells my second cousin, Giuseppe what just went down.
We try wrapping our heads around the unexpected chain of events, mourning the loss of Joe by sharing beloved stories about him. Angela returns empty handed, the employees show up, and Giuseppe opens the restaurant. After a third drink, he cuts us off, sending cups of espresso over to our table in place of the liquor.
He rejoins us for a late lunch, sitting down and saying, “I can’t believe it about Joe. Your father, too Tony. I used to play kick the can with them in the alley behind our houses when we was just boys growing up together on the block.” He shakes his head, fighting back tears and stroking the thick white linen tablecloth with one hand as we lower our heads in a moment of silence.
Uncle Leo walks through the front door with two of my father’s former bodyguards, Salvatore and Stefano. He comes up to the table, asking, “Where’s Joe, in the lavatory?” Uncle Angelo stares at Uncle Leo, mum. The three of them take a seat and Angelo recounts what transpired in Gaetano Adamo’s office.
One of the servers brings us all a generous wine glass full of Trebbiano. Leo raises his, making a little speech at the table, “Joseph Anthony Ferrante was a good man, one of the best. A standup guy. Loyal to the core. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. He served my older brother, Antonio Senior, his best friend and boss faithfully until he was killed in cold blood, avenging his death. May you rest in peace Joe, you will be sorely missed.” He lets out a heavy sigh. We raise our glasses to his in a toast to Joe, clinking them together before we drink.
The server sets down a plate of the afternoon special in front of each of us. Stuffed manicotti shells filled with prosciutto, ricotta, Romano, and fresh Italian parsley finely minced, topped with Angela’s thick marinara sauce. I push the food around on my plate, favoring the wine. The men at the table all talk at once with their mouths full. How can Carlo and Angelo eat, I wonder.
Carlo, who sits next to me, leans in, whispering, “The first time I killed somebody, I couldn’t eat or sleep for a week. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it Tony.” Then he digs into his plate of pasta.
I’m not sure if what he tells me makes me feel better or worse. Deep down, I know I am my father’s son. That became crystal clear to me this morning. Still, murdering people isn’t something I want to get used to, not in the least. What I really want is to go to the University of Chicago, get my law degree, and screw Colleen Murphy’s brains out every chance I get.
We leave La Pasana Cucina. Uncle Leo puts Angelo and Carlo in a taxi, sending them home. Then orders me into the back seat of his Cadillac. Salvatore gets behind the wheel, the same way he used to in my father’s car with Stefano sitting up front next to him.
Once we get moving, Uncle Leo reaches his hand into the crack of the seat behind him. He pulls out a red mechanics rag, unwrapping it and holding up a gun. “This is unregistered. Keep it with you. Always. You hear me, Tony,” he says, offering it to me.
“I don’t want it, Uncle Leo. Bad enough you made me do in Gaetano Adamo. I don’t wanna kill nobody else.”
“Look kid, you know Gaetano’s men are gonna come after you right? Whether they figure out you took care of Gaetano or not, you’re a prime target. They’ve ordered a hit on you, me, and Carlo by now.”