Monday, January 5, 2009

Prescott (part 1)

“I’ll get it to you tomorrow. I swear.”

“You have no more tomorrows.”

He backed away. “Please. Have mercy. I’m begging you.”

“You know who I am. You know what I do.”

He tried to run - slipped. He struggled to get up, but couldn’t. The stack of plates he knocked over were like ice under his feet. He managed to crawl into the corner where he curled into a whimpering little ball.

I pointed my gun at his head.

The gunshot still echoed in my ears after I woke up. The echo faded by the time my eyes adjusted to the dim light. I rolled out of bed; the thin motel carpet scratchy under my feet. I threw open the blinds and stared out the window.

The smell of Rita’s shampoo wafted from the bathroom. We got to Prescott, Arizona two days ago. The money ran out shortly afterward. She left a few hours ago, searching for a job. She would have to be the bread winner for a while. There isn’t a checkbox for “killing people” in the skills section of most job application.

I was alone except for the ghosts.

Prescott was a little nothing of a town. None of the buildings were more than two stories high and the roads were almost always empty. All the blue sky and open spaces would make any native New Yorker uneasy.

I flipped through the Gideon bible you find in every hotel. Someone had tucked a five dollar bill inside. My lucky day. The page with the five had a verse underlined. Ezekiel 36:27: "And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them."

I slipped the fiver in my pocket and headed to a nearby diner.

Giovanni Pezzino borrowed money from Jack Lupino to open a new restaurant. It was somewhere on Hester, east of Mott. He served authentic Tuscan food - just like his father used to make before coming to the States. Pezzino’s restaurant quickly became a favorite spot for New Yorkers. It was just outside the main section of Little Italy, so it wasn’t overrun by tourists during the summer months. Lupino got his money back with a nice bonus on top. But then, Pezzino decided to stop paying for protection.

Why I dreamed about Pezzino after all these years was anybody’s guess.
Diners are different across the country. But they all have the same key ingredients. Hard booths and shiny table tops. The smell of stale cigarettes and staler coffee. Greasy food for cheap. Sixty cents for a coffee. Eighty for a bagel. Ninety if you wanted cream cheese. A far cry from Manhattan prices.

The bell above the door sounded, and I looked up reflexively. A cop walked in, went over to the register, and began talking to the man behind it. The man, most likely the diner’s owner, had a black eye. I thought nothing of it at first, but the cop was taking notes. I heard the words “Mexican” and “five thousand dollars”. The diner had been robbed.

I hate thieves. I killed dozens of people, but never anyone who didn’t deserve it. They all knew the rules. They knew what would happen if they broke them. Jack Lupino didn’t pull any punches. But thieves are bottom-feeders. You couldn’t trust them. They had no honor. They preyed on civilians who just wanted a nice, quiet life and the Mets to win a game now and then.

Rita and I said we had to stay under the radar. But someone had to pay.

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