Freddie

Are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?

            Steve Spuzoni was never seen much. The guy was a real mystery, a real mob boss. Spuzoni was my idol. Ya know, I was a young kid in the Bronx, the product of loud Italian immigrants—I didn’t have a whole lot to look up to. But Spuzoni was it; he was what I wanted to be. He really was a mob boss—the kind that never comes out during the day, wears one of those wide-brimmed hats to match his tailored suits, hides out in the backs of barber shops and butcher shops. The kind that’ll kill ya for sayin’ “Spuzoni” wrong. 

            I was eighteen when I met Tony Two-Thirds, Spuzoni’s main guy. I don’t know why they call him Two-Thirds, but you really don’t want to fuck with him. It might be because he’s kind of a little guy, ya know—maybe it’s a short joke, I don’t know. All I know is all Tony had to do was tell Spuzoni about ya, and then you were either whacked or taken in. I knew which one I wanted.

            Two-Thirds was a real hygienic kinda guy—always had his hair slicked back, not a single strand sticking out, always smelled like he took a bath in cologne. He wasn’t a real good-lookin’ guy, had a couple of scars on his face and a little bit of a drooping left eyelid, but bein’ Spuzoni’s right hand sorta made up for that kind of thing. I met him at the barber shop, the one he’s gotta keep an eye on. Spuzoni’s got some kind of an operation goin’ on there. He kept lookin’ at me real serious-like—I didn’t think the guy knew I existed. Turns out, ol’ Two-Thirds had a thing for my sister, Mary. 

            “Hey, you. Yeah, you—the skinny dark one. Yous Mary’s brother, yeah?” Two-Thirds asked me, his head up real high to compensate for his height, and probably to make that droopy lid look better. He wasn’t real intimidating, but you could tell he really thought he was.

            “Yeah,” I responded. “Sure am. You know Mary?”

            Two-Thirds sat across from me in an empty barber’s chair, crossed his right ankle real loose-like across his left knee, leaned an elbow on his thigh; I think he smiled for a second.

            “Nah, I don’t know her. Yet. I seen her working over at the supermarket, lookin’ real pretty. Thought I might like to get to know her. What’s your story, kid?”

            Story? Ain’t I like the rest of these kids livin’ in the Bronx? We don’t come from shit and we ain’t got shit. “I ain’t got a story. I’m just trying to figure out what the rest of my life is gonna look like. I’m eighteen and all now, ya know. Pa wants me to start workin’, start bein’ more of a man, I guess.”

            “Huh. Yeah. I was there, too, kid. What if I told you I can get you to be a little more like me, eh? What would you say to that?”

            “You mean be a part of Spuz—”

            “Shut the hell up, kid. You can’t be sayin’ that sorta stuff out loud, alright? But yeah, somethin’ like that. I can get you into business with me at the butcher shop—holidays are comin’ up. We need some fresh meat, y’know?” Two-Thirds gave me a quick wink, which probably wasn’t real hard considering his eyelid was already half-way there. “What do they call ya, kid?”

            “Name’s Freddie. Freddie Marchella.”

            “Alright, Freddie. I’ll be seein’ ya soon. What say you meet me at the butcher shop sometime this week? Write down your number for me. And how about next time I go to the supermarket, I get some real good service from your sister?” Two-Thirds smirked.

            “Yeah, alright. I’ll let Mary know. I’ll be seein’ ya.”

            All I wanted was a haircut. And what I got was a whole hell of a lot more.

*****

            Ma always cooked us dinner. You’d think one of us was gettin’ sent to the pen’ the way she threw spreads together. Mary and I sat across from each other, Pa at the head of the table, and Ma, in her tomato-stained apron and heavy perfume, runnin’ around servin’ up extra helpings. Her best dish was her bolognese. Pa and I died for it every time. The bolognese sat in the center of the table, the steam still rising from it—I tells ya, ain’t no woman who can feed me like Ma does. Even when I think I’m full, abouts to explode, Ma comes slappin’ another helping on my plate. There was bread and butter and garlic spread; there were two bottles of wine and Pa’s vodka on the table. Mary and Ma liked the wine—I’m not a real drinking guy. 

            Family dinners were real important to Ma. We never missed a night of the four of us sittin’ around our rickety wood table, Ma’s tacky tablecloth with Italian scenery all over it hidin’ all the scratches and kni cks. Guys were always tryin’ to get Mary out for dinner, somewhere fancy like one of those chain restaurants with the free bread baskets. But Ma wouldn’t let it happen. Ain’t no way one of us was gonna be missin’ from this table. Italian mothers take dinner real serious—it was Ma’s nightly Super Bowl. Nothin’ beats seein’ your ma happy.

            The kitchen phone let out its shrill ring. “Who the hell is callin’ during dinner?” Pa hated having meal time interrupted—but not everyone in New York sits around a table with bolognese drippin’ on their shirts like he does. He forgets the world is a lot bigger than just our house. 

            Mary answered the phone—I knew it was Tony Two-Thirds the minute I seen her finger wrappin’ itself around the curly green cord, her face lookin’ real giddy and happy. She really took a liking to ol’ Two-Thirds. And that meant Two-Thirds took a real liking to me. 

            “Freddie, someone wants to talk to ya,” Mary said, holding the spiraling cord from the center, letting the phone swing toward the floor like a pendulum, making me earn its place in my fist.

            “Yeah, Freddie here.” I glanced back toward the dining room, saw Pa eyein’ Mary real close, probably wondering why the hell she was still smiling so hard. We agreed Ma and Pa couldn’t know whos we were runnin’ with.

            “Freddie! You good-fa-nothin’ kid! It’s Tony—Tony Two-Thirds. What say you make your way on down to the butcher shop, eh? Holidays are around the corner—we gotta prepare, y’know?”

            “Yeah, yeah, sure. Sounds good. I’ll see ya,” I said, trying to avoid Pa’s glare that found its way to me. I hung up the phone real quiet. I told Ma and Pa I got a job workin’ the choppin’ block of the butcher shop—which wasn’t a lie. I just wasn’t choppin’ pigs most of the time. I said I got called in to work, had to go prepare hams for all our holiday orders. If it had to do with work, Pa didn’t argue. Ma protested, but gave in since dinner was near done and I finally had a job. And it was one hell of a job. 

            How long can you stand the heat?I thought to myself as I walked to the butcher shop, through the white snow coating the brown brick of the Bronx, to my new life as one of Steve Spuzoni’s men.

***

            Spuzoni was a real quiet guy. He never said much, but I knew he liked me. He was always pleased when we came back from whackin’ someone who owed him money or stepped on the back of his shoe. He never told you he was pleased—you just got a real soft tip of the hat if you made him proud. Tony and I got real close, too. He and Mary were gettin’ real serious; she seemed happy, and so did Spuzoni. It was real beautiful, y’know? Real harmonious and all that.

            Spuzoni’s game was runnin’ machine guns. He had his quarters in the back of the barber shop where I met Tony and in the basement of a busy butcher shop in the heart of the city. We used the butcher shop’s delivery trucks to sell the guns and deliver them. It was real exciting—I had never seen a real machine gun before. But lotsa guys that bought from Spuzoni ended up shortin’ him on cash or spreadin’ his name a little too much. That’s where Tony and I came in—we got to use these same guns and whack those guys. I ain’t never killed someone before then. It really didn’t bother me much.

            My first hit went a little something like this: Spuzoni sent us to some real dark part of town where all the Irish do their livin’ and stuff. Pa ain’t a real big fan of the Irish—I never cared much about all that, but the Bronx was all about loyalty. If your people didn’t like someone, well then you better not like ‘em either. So these real broad lookin’ hairy Irish guys were buyin’ a case of guns off of ol’ Spuzoni; but they had plans that didn’t involve a whole lot of cash. They tried tellin’ us some bull about havin’ already made an “arrangement” with Spuzoni—you think a guy like Spuzoni takes interest-free payments? We knew they were yankin’ us, but we let ‘em think we were just a couple of dumb delivery guys. We handed ‘em their case, got in the truck, watched them load up their own truck, and then we unloaded. Two-Thirds always had his pistol in the glove box—just in case, y’know? And this was the case he was ready for. We drove past real quick-like, Two-Thirds busted a couple rounds into their thick Irish heads, and handed me the gun. I unloaded just one shot—just to finish one of the guys off real nice. It didn’t feel like nothin’.

            Things were goin’ real smooth for a while. I was in Spuzoni’s mob for about six months—we passed Christmas and New Year. I was able to buy my family real nice stuff for Christmas. I got Ma whole new kitchen appliances and I got Pa a new chair for the living room so he can watch his games and not worry about breaking the old flea market chair we had before. Tony always had Mary wearin’ real nice fur coats and new purses and stuff. She really loved the guy for a while.

            But then Mary came home one night in March, after missin’ dinner to go out with Tony. Ma was already upset that Mary would miss a family dinner to go out with a boy, but her irritation turned into panic real quick when Mary came home. Her face was real bloody and there were bruises on her arms. She wouldn’t tell Ma and Pa what happened—said she fell down after slippin’ on an ice patch. I knew what happened though. I knew Tony was hurtin’ her. 

            And that’s when things turned real sour. Ain’t no one gonna get away with hurtin’ my Mary. There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man and bring him to the ground: you can beat him, you can cheat him, you can treat him bad, and leave him when he’s down. But hurtin’ my sister was something else entirely. I knew I had to do somethin’, but I had to act like I didn’t know nothin’.

            But at the butcher shop, while I was loading up the trucks, I heard Tony tellin’ Spuzoni all about “puttin’ Mary in her place.” Spuzoni let out a laugh, a real quiet one, and gave Tony one of his nods—one of those nods that make you feel real big and important. Spuzoni was proud of the guy for layin’ hands on Mary. My ears was ringin’ and I couldn’t see straight, I was so angry. I pretended I couldn’t hear them. I loaded the truck, got in the passenger seat, and waited for Tony to get in and start driving to our next delivery.

            We pulled into an alley behind a convenience store, a real dark, smelly alley. We sold the guns, put the cash in the back, and got back into the cabin of the truck. That’s when I excused myself—said I had to take a piss real quick. I went to the back and grabbed one of our machine guns. How do you think I’m gonna get along without you when you’re gone? You took me for everything that I had and kicked me out on my own.I was ruining my life over this mob. I spent less and less time with my family. I was killin’ people for reasons that I really didn’t have a part of. And my sister was gettin’ hurt for the sake of me feelin’ like I had some purpose in this world. But I’d get along just fine without ol’ Tony Two-Thirds. Maybe that’s why they call him Two-Thirds—a whole man wouldn’t ever lay his hands on a woman, ‘specially a woman like Mary. She’s a real good girl, y’know? Real sweet and stuff. 

            “Hey, Tony. Are you happy? Are you satisfied?You feelin’ like a real big man now?” I yelled, still out of his line of sight.

            “The hell you goin’ on about kid? Get in the truck. We still got—”

            Out of the doorway, the bullets rip.I sent a round of bullets straight to Tony’s skull. His droopy eye opened all the way up for a second, then they both slammed shut, right before his body went slack and his head hit the steering wheel, blood spattered on the windshield. That’s what happens when you hurt my Mary. Ma’s right—ain’t nothin’ more important than family. Not even bein’ a part of Spuzoni’s lousy gun game. 

            “You ain’t ever gonna touch my sister again, you son of a bitch.” I packed the machine gun back in its case, left Tony and the bloodied truck, and headed straight for my next hit. Spuzoni started all of this—Spuzoni made Tony feel like a big man, gave him the approval he wanted for hurtin’ people, hurtin’ girls. But they’re both weak. And he’ll get what’s comin’ to him real soon.

            I waited outside the butcher shop ‘til Spuzoni left. He had on a cream colored suit with a red handkerchief, his tan shoes clicking across the cracked, misshapen sidewalk, never missing a beat, a white hat with a cream colored band leanin’ real low on his head. He had his hands tucked in his pockets, his back real straight, lookin’ real confident, but lookin’ real tired, too. Steve Spuzoni. The son of a bitch. 

            Steve walks wearily down the street with his brim pulled way down low; ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet, my machine gun ready to go.

            I didn’t need Spuzoni or any other mob to make me a man—all it did was make me a killer and get Mary hurt. Ma was constantly worried, Pa started drinking more. It ain’t worth it. Spuzoni wasn’t a man at all—a real man don’t gotta kill and cheat for money. I didn’t need to be part of a big mob to feel a part of something.

            I’m ready, yes, I’m ready for you. I’m standing on my own two feet. Out of the doorway, the bullets rip. 

            All it took was one bullet, straight to the back of the head—turns out that brim ain’t much protection. Spuzoni stumbled a second, then he fell straight down on the concrete; the red handkerchief spilled out of his pocket, soaking in the blood that pooled around him. And that was the end of Spuzoni and his legacy. I’m sure he’ll be a Bronx legend for a few more years. Til someone new takes over. That’s the way the Bronx goes. Ain’t no one got shit here, so you gotta make your own shit. And then someone takes it from ya. And that’s the way it goes.

            Another one gone and another one gone. Another one bites the dust.

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