Friday, January 11, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 25

Tony saying to me, “What’re you lookin at?”


Not a lie actually because Anthony Farascio’s question should have been, what’s looking at us. Gina in particular. Not that I’m about to tell Tony that two other very rough-looking gentlemen are ogling his wife. This joint being the Farascio’s turf, I figure Gina’s husband would exhibit few qualms initiating combat over her honor. I’m afraid on Mulberry Street this means we could all die in a haze of armor-piercing bullets.

Personally, I’d rather sample the baked macaroni, get back to Jersey.

“Don’t brush me off,” Tony says. “Somebody checking us out?”

Damn. Here it is again, that special Austin Carr moment when I know what I am about to say will produce inevitable and disastrous repercussions. Nevertheless, I will make my little speech because I’m a blabbermouth who craves the sound of his own voice.

“Two guys came in a minute ago, sat behind you,” I say. “Seems like they might know you...and Gina.”

Boy, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. When am I going to learn? This Gift of Gab is becoming a major and serious handicap. Wonder if I could get one of those special license plates with the embossed wheelchair?

Tony spins to check out the new customers.

Gina’s gaze has been avoiding mine all night. Now her dark eyes fix on me, a hard angry glare. She tosses a chunk of bread at my chest. She was about to dip it into a dish of green olive oil.

Guess she thinks I’m a blabbermouth, too.

Tony’s German Shepherd eyes drift back to me and Gina. “Wise guys,” he says. “The one with the shrimp lips is named Jimmy something. I know the other one, too.” He focuses on Gina. “They’re both part of Nunzio’s crew.”

Gina frowns. “What are they doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Tony says. “Think I have to ask’em.”

Over Tony’s shoulder, movement draws my gaze. “You don’t have to,” I say. “They’re coming over.”

Sinatra is singing “New York, New York” now, his big studio orchestra filling cracks in the little restaurant’s stucco walls like slick grout. Wine bottles rattle. The smell of tomato sauce hovers like fog.

Tony stares at my nose, then over my shoulder. “Which one you want?”

“They don’t look like they’re going to start anything,” I say. “Seems like they just want to say hello.”

“I’m not talking about the two guys behind me,” Tony says. “I’m talking about the two behind you.”

My head snaps. The Creeper and his friend with a diamond earring are headed our way.

Gina saying, “This would be a great time to show these people your gun, Tony.”

“I left it in the Town Car,” he says.

“Perfect,” I say. “In case we need it later.”

The one Tony calls Shrimp Lips stops closest to Gina. His lips really do look like boiled crustacean. Pink with blistered white stripes. Bet he’s a lousy kisser. He says to Gina, “Hiya, Sugar. Want to dance?”

Gina makes a show of her unsuccessful search for a dance floor. “Where?” she says. “On the table?”

Shrimp Lips focuses on Gina’s cleavage. Slow and deliberate, leering and insulting. “Honey, with that set of tits, I’d be happy if we just wiggled around right here.”

My jaw falls off.

Tony’s right fist leads his shoulder and hips out of his seat. His knuckles flash against Shrimp Lips’s gooey mouth. The sound of breaking teeth cracks the air like a whip.

Gina’s molester tumbles into the neighboring table. Men yell. Women scream. Plates, glasses, and silverware crash and break.

Shrimp Lips grabs a tablecloth on the way down. More dishes and glasses bust on the floor.

Gina and two other women scream.

It’s like watching one of Sam Peckinpaw’s slow-motion fight scenes. Everyone in the restaurant was watching. Now they’re fighting. Every single face distorts with anger and frustration. Their grunts and groans erupt around the room like a series of steam jets.

A thick arm encircles my neck, choking off my air. Sinatra is voice soars to a big finish.

New York, New York, my ass.

Might have blacked out for a second there. I guess it’s Shrimp Lips’s partner choking me. Don’t know for certain because I can’t see behind me, and even if I could, I probably couldn’t because my eyes are bulging halfway out of their sockets.

If that makes any sense. Maybe the lack of oxygen is affecting my cognitive abilities. I wish somebody would turn off Sinatra before he starts “My Way.”

A fist hits me in the mouth. Whoa. The python around my neck rips over my ears as I fall against and onto a exceptionally sturdy wooden chair. Before my feet find solid ground, a giant wild beast compresses my chest into wallboard.

Must be a moose. Or a grizzly bear pushing against me. Destroying my urban illusion of being in control of nature.

No. Wait. It’s human. Almost.

The Creeper.

Notice I said “destroying” urban illusions, not “decimating?” TV newscasters and movie scriptwriters think the words are interchangeable, and they eventually will be, of course, thanks to never-ending misuse.

But for now, and the last 2000 years anyway, decimate means to reduce by ten percent. It’s the only thing I learned in high school Latin class. It’s what Caesar used to do to his troops when food ran low. Centurions would count off every tenth man and kill him. A scene of slaughter, oh yeah, but hardly the same as destroy. Ninety percent survived a decimation.

A shrieking lizard-brain alarm goes off when I realize what I’ve been thinking about. I’m definitely running short of air. Playing Jeopardy while my oxygen depletes. Caesar and his Centurions.

I twist my face right, gasp a mouthful of air, then throw my shoulders to the left. I successfully almost break my neck.

Fists punch my face. My head gets smacked against the floor. I hear a voice in my head begin to hum. Gina’s screams become a distant wailing.

The buzz in my head grows louder and louder until it’s a spinning circle of smoky black sleep. The dark tornado sucks me inside.

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