Friday, January 18, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 26

“Come on, get uppa.”

The familiar, thickly accented voice cancels a nightmare about having my head crushed. Is that Mama Bones? What is she doing here? Or, more to the point, where the hell am I?

My head’s full of blood and mucous, ready to split like an overripe olive. My nose feels like a wad of prosciutto. Oh, yeah. Now I remember. I’m at the best little Italian restaurant in Little Italy. The joint right off Mulberry Street where, as a prize, three humans and The Creeper beat up one unlucky table of guests every night before pasta’s served. Keeps the other customers in line.

I roll to my hands and knees, let Mama Bones’s sturdy two-handed grip tow me onto my feet. Whoa. Mr. Vick’s mother owns major grasping and pulling forearms. Like Caterpillar back-hoes. Mama Bones must fill out a lot of phony bingo cards.

Two young men I remember from Mr. Vick’s sailing-away party in Atlantic Highlands stand watchfully behind Mama Bones. Dark-haired, dark-eyed. Wearing black chinos, black Nikes, and black T-shirts. Mr. Trim and Mr. Fit.

What’s up with them?

“No time to answer questions,” Mama Bones says. “This is Thomas, this one Gianni.”

Wonder if there’s anything to Mr. Vick’s claim his mother actually reads minds? Nah. It’s obvious I would have a question, right?

Mama Bones squats her ample butt down beside Gina and touches the younger woman’s shoulder. Her hand rubs Gina’s back. It’s a side of Mr. Vick’s mother I’ve never witnessed before. Almost warm. Like five-minute-old toast.

“We gotta go, honey,” Mama Bones says.

Gina’s hands and gaze won’t leave Tony’s face, the dark-haired beauty no longer Queen of Anything, just a shocked and frightened woman. Kind of the way I felt when Creeper hauled me and Ryan about the Locust Tree Inn dining room, Creeper with one arm around each of us, like we were broken lamps.

“Tony’s hurt,” Gina says. “We have to get help.”

Mama Bones leans across Gina and touches Tony’s neck. Her fingers don’t stay in contact more than three or four seconds. “We take him to hospital,” Mama says. She waves for Thomas and Gianni to lift him.

“Come on. Get up,” she says to Gina.

“I hear a siren,” Gina says. “I should stay and tell the police.”

Mama shakes her head. “At’sa no good idea, Angelina. This Brooklyn. If cops keep you overnight, Tony’s people have you killed in jail.”

“Tony’s people? Why would they hurt me?”

Just what I was going to ask. We have a lot in common, Gina and me.

“Who you think ordered this, huh?” Mama Bones says. “You think Bluefish send Jersey people to Brooklyn without permission?”

Gina’s crying. Between sniffs, she says, “Nunzio?”

Mama Bones leads our hurried, shuffling troop through a suddenly empty kitchen. Gee, where did the staff go? The chefs and chefettes are hiding.

Or maybe it’s that over-blended, caustic smell of roasting lamb shanks, grilled liver, sautéed fish, and burned broccoli that drove them away. I know I could use some fresh air.

Outside, in an alley busy with delivery vans and trucks, Gina first tumbles in behind the driver’s seat of a very clean white Cadillac Escalade. But when Gianni and Thomas stretch Tony out in the extended trunk, Gina changes her mind, wants to ride in back with her husband.

Gina screams when she crawls up close beside him. Uh, oh.

Mama Bones grips my arm. “Her husband is dead,” she says. “That animal Max break Tony’s neck.”

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