Friday, August 10, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 4

I’m in Mr. Vick’s mahogany-paneled private office, one hand on the boss’s previously locked and out-of-bounds liquor cabinet, the other on an unopened bottle of forty-year-old bourbon, when I hear Carmela scream.

I have to say, my first thought is Carmela’s seen a mouse. The scream is high-pitched, sort of squeaky, and I expect there’s a little smile on my face when I reach Vick’s office doorway to check the scene out. But it’s not a mouse chasing Carmela down the center isle of Shore’s half-staffed big sales room. It’s a rat--Carmela’s estranged husband and Shore’s ex-sales manager, Tom Ragsdale. More surprising, shocking even, Rags is wielding a steak knife. My old boss and nemesis is pretty fast, too.

Probably the only way to catch him is to step on his tail.

Breaking into a run, and spotting no other available appendages, I dive for his legs. I’m not really the hero type, but Rags’s small and demented brain seems completely focused on catching Carmela. Plus, I personally owe this bastard plenty. Before he turned his life over to booze, drugs, and gambling, Rags actually ran me down last year with his Jaguar.

My shoulder makes perfect contact with his knee, a classic, all-pro tackle, and we tumble together in a ball of fists and elbows, crashing against the bottom of Bobby G’s desk bordering the main aisle. High school football coaches everywhere would be proud of my form.

My ears await the rush of cheers and accolades from the dwindling, late Monday afternoon sales staff as I push up onto my hands and knees. But the only sound I hear are gasps.

What? Did my pants fall down?

Nope. It’s Rags, up much faster than me.

As I’m still scrambling to my feet, Rags grabs Carmela, rips a bond calculator from the top of Bobby G’s desk, then wraps the machine’s electric cord around Carmela’s neck.

“Back off, sucker,” Rags says, “or I’m going to recalculate Carmela’s yield to maturity.”



I decided to call Brooklyn. It’s what Mr. Vick told me to do, and except for lining up left-to-right-breaking putts, and maybe right-to-left ones as well, Mr. Vick’s past advice has proven...well, not bad.

“My name’s Austin Carr, Tony. My partner Vick Bonacelli said I should call you if his daughter’s jilted husband came back and caused trouble.”

“Jelly what?”

“Jilted. Carmela’s husband. He’s here.”

“Vick’s in trouble?”

This guy Tony sounds like major mental midget. Hope it’s just a bad first impression. “No, his daughter Carmela’s in trouble. Vick’s in Italy.”

“Right. Uh...what’s going on...exactly?”

I shake my head at the phone, then glance at Rags. He’s had Carmela inside the big glass conference room for five minutes now. The door’s locked and that black electric cord still winds tight around Carmela’s neck like a snake. Maybe I should have called the police instead of this Tony guy, but Rags appears very scary. Beady, drug-zapped eyes. Oily sweaty skin. I’m afraid he could be too much for local law enforcement. Besides, the boss Mr. Vick told me to call Brooklyn, not the cops.

“Hey, Carr. I’m waiting here,” Tony says.

“Sorry. I was just taking a look. Right this second, Rags is holding Carmela hostage inside our conference room. He has an electric cord wrapped around her throat. I don’t know what to do.”

“Did he say what he wants?” Tony says.

“A hundred grand to pay off some gambling debt. Says it’s a loan against the stock in Shore he’s signing over to Carmela as part of their divorce settlement. The split’s not a done-deal yet, so he thinks he’s got leverage.”

“Okay, that’s good. That’s very good. Tell him someone’s on the way with the hundred thousand.”

“You want me to tell him you’re going to give him the money?”

“That’s what I said, right? Now get in there, tell him what I told you. And make sure he knows he doesn’t get the money if he hurts Carmela.”

Tony’s confidence is not catching, but it does somewhat relieve my first impression. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. Perhaps he has experience with unwrapping cords from people’s necks.

“But how can I stall him for hours while you get the money, then drive down from Brooklyn?” I say.

“This is a cell phone, sunshine. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Don’t worry ‘bout the cash.”

Handsome man, Tony Farascio. Six-foot-plus. Wide shoulders. That Mediterranean-dusky thing, onyx-black hair with a beard heavy enough to sprout five o’clock shadows at breakfast. But also with delicate features; chin, nose, and cheekbones like a movie star. George Clooney pretty.

Through the conference-room glass, I watch Tony show my ex sales manager what’s inside his New York Giants sports bag. I’m guessing the contents must look like a hundred grand because Rags pushes Carmela closer to the glass and reaches to unlock the solid oak door.

I hold my breath.

Tony glances over his shoulder to make sure I’ve emptied the office of potential witnesses, then kicks the just-unlocked door in on Rags. I hear and feel the thud of the collision. Carmela goes flying, too.

Tony is inside instantly, ripping the calculator from Rags and freeing Carmela.

By the time I rush in, the skirmish is over. Rags moans on the floor. Carmela’s crying, but standing off in a neutral corner. Tony digs in his pocket.

“Bring my car around back,” Tony says.

He tosses me his keys. My hand drops from the weight of the catch. Must be fifteen or twenty keys on this NY Giants ring.

“It’s the dark blue Town Car out front,” he says.

Flat on his back, Rags kicks at Tony’s crotch. It’s wild, and pretty much telegraphed. He misses, Rags’s Gucci-shoed foot barely scraping the bigger man’s thigh.

Tony raises his fist and pops Rags hard in the forehead.

“Don’t hurt him,” Carmela says.

Too late for that, Carmela. Your hubby’s eyes are rolling back into his head as we speak. He’s unconscious and probably has a concussion.

Tony nods to me. “Get my car.”

“What are you going to do with him?” I say.

Tony grins. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. Let’s just say I’m going to relocate his ass. Like one of your dangerous New Jersey black bears.”

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