A year ago, I didn’t have diddily squat. I lived in a pickup-mounted camper. My wages were garnished. I was thousands of dollars in debt, including overdue alimony and child-support payments. The ex-wife even had a restraining order preventing me from seeing our children. Very little to lose in those days. Taking risks came smooth and easy.
Now my support payments--all my bills--are current. I get Ryan and Beth every Wednesday night for dinner and again every other weekend. I can afford a two-bedroom apartment and a leased Toyota. More important, my ownership interest in Shore Securities could fund my kids’ college education, provided Carmela and I, the people we hire, run Shore as well as Mr. Vick did.
Point being, all of sudden I’ve got plenty to lose. That’s why I’m pushing Brooklyn Tony on Bluefish. I have no idea what happened to Rags after Tony dragged him out of Shore’s offices last week, but I know Rags hasn’t bothered me or Carmela since. Maybe Tony can pull off the same kind of disappearing act with Bluefish.
Tony examines me standing on his porch with the soft, confident brown eyes of a German Shepherd. Calm, relaxed, just inside the threshold of his home in Graves End, Brooklyn, Mister Handsome extends his paw for me. “Come on in.”
He practically lifts me inside with his giant mitt. Tony’s got on an extra-extra-large gray golf shirt and navy sweats, but there’s no missing the muscle beneath the loose cloth. This guy snatched me off the porch like I was the afternoon newspaper.
“Any trouble finding the place?” he says.
Across my shoulders, his hand weighs like a backpack loaded for an assault on Everest.
“No problem,” I say. “And I really appreciate you’re seeing me. I’m a little embarrassed coming for dinner.”
Tony’s body hardens like fast-drying glue. “Embarrassed?” His brown eyes narrow into a glare that fills my blood with adrenaline. Jesus. Is that what they call the prison stare? “What?” he says. “You got a problem coming to Grave’s End?”
Yipes. “Hell, no. I mean embarrassed about putting you out. Making your wife cook for me. I would have been happy to take you and the wife--”
“--out to dinner.”
Using his hand like a puppeteer, Tony twists both our heads to greet a dark-haired young woman striding our way. She’s wearing a black skirt and a furry, sleeveless sweater with yellow and black horizontal stripes.
“Is this Vick’s friend Austin?” she says.
Tony saying, “My wife Gina.”
Mrs. Tony Farascio is a knockout. Long midnight hair, maybe ten or twelve inches past her shoulders. Huge, oval, yellow-flaked brown eyes. An ear-to-ear smile whose sincerity appears generated by an even bigger heart. The smile and the striped sweater remind me of honey bees and summer days. Sweet stuff, this Gina.
She offers her hand. “Austin.”
I give her the full-boat Carr grin when her fingers brush mine. I feel dizzy, spinning in a field of perfumed July flowers. Hey, wake up, Carr. Time to snap out of Gina’s spell before I erect myself a tower of trouble.
“Can I get you a drink?” she says.
“But Carmela’s doing okay?” Tony says. “That prick Ragsdale was a serious loser.”
“Slip of the tongue. I took him to the ‘splaining department is all, told him what might happen if he ever showed up again at Vick’s place.”
I nod, wondering if my boss Vick picked up the “splaining department joke from Tony, or visa versa. “Great. Thanks. No, Carmela’s doing fine. It’s this other thing with Bluefish why I called.”
Tony and I sip after-dinner sambucas in the Farascio’s downstairs playroom, a tennis-court-size basement with two bowling lanes, a pool table, a card table, a mini-theater with a big screen TV and recliners for eight, a juke box, a soda fountain, and enough cushioned perimeter seating for the Rutgers marching band.
“But you said Bluefish agreed to keep his end of bargain?” Tony says. “I don’t see the problem.”
“Neither I nor Luis trust him.”
Tony’s teeth crunch one of the three coffee beans floating in the sambuca. “I don’t personally know this guy Bluefish, but I heard of him. I don’t see him getting where he is in this world without keeping his word.”
“Even with people he’s about to kill?”
Tony grins. “You got a point there, pal.”
Gina calls from the top of stairs. “Telephone, Tony.”
I can’t see her, but I definitely remember what the touch of her hand did to my heart beat, the circulation in my extremities. Her voice makes me almost smell her.
Tony stands. “Let me check out a few things,” he says. “I’ll get back to yeah.”