Friday, December 19, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 69

One Month Later...

“Are we going for Mexican again?”

Ryan’s six-word query comes across like one long whine. Gee. I know my son doesn’t like hot sauce and food overly spiced, but I thought my budding all-star shortstop enjoyed Umberto’s relatively mild chicken chimichangas. He never said he didn’t.

“It is my Wednesday night to pick the restaurant,” I say.

Beth shakes her head. She’s glaring out the passenger window of my Camry. “And that means Luis’s. You haven’t picked another place for us to eat on Wednesday in like, what? Three years?”

“What about that night we went to Zorro’s for a masked cheeseburger?”

Beth says, “Masked cat’s more like it. And the only reason we went there is because Luis’s was closed after the fire.”

I brake the Camry at a red light on Broad Street. A mile-long white stretch limo pulls up to the light beside us, diverting my mind from repartee’ with Beth. Why do these limos always have blackout windows? Like if we actually saw Bruce or Mr. Jovi, we might jump straight out of our cars and attack them?

Green light. I push down on the gas pedal. Thanks to the ex-wife’s change of heart, I have Beth and Ryan again on Wednesday nights, plus every other weekend. When I showed Susan’s attorney how well Shore was doing, what my new ownership percentage was, the man became very interested. When I showed him how I named Susan custodian of the kids’ new college mutual fund accounts, well, he became almost friendly.

So did Susan, actually. Soft and gooey. She actually smiled at me tonight when I picked up the kids.

Go figure.

Being the one to “capture” Creeper probably helped my cause as well. Though I discouraged the idea, primarily because the perception was inaccurate, the media continually played up the sensational angle of a father using his Gift of Gab to trick a murderer, his daughter’s kidnapper, into surrendering. In truth, I probably would have made Creeper my driver, as promised, if some shell-collecting beach hiker hadn’t seen Creeper with Gina’s shotgun, called 911 right away on his Nokia.

Those Keansburg cops swarmed us like locusts, had Creeper in handcuffs before I could explain the special conditions of his new employment.

He must have had outstanding warrants.

We hit another red light. “Tell you what, kids,” I say. “As a special treat, in celebration of this modest family reunion, I’ll take the two of you back to the Locust Tree Inn for steak and lobster. Bluefish and the Creeper won’t be there, but maybe we’ll meet some other--”

“Nooooo,” Ryan and Beth say. Their combined voices vibrate the Camry’s windows.

I was only kidding. I’m hitting Luis’s tonight for reasons other than tequila and burritos.


“You silly,” Mama Bones says. “You see those-a two pretty girls at the end of the bar?”

“Yes.”

Luis’s Mexican Grill is filled with Bonacelli clan members tonight--Bonacellis, and the happy crew of Shore Securities. We’re having a party to celebrate Mr. Vick’s return from Tuscany.

“Luis loves the girl on right,” Mama Bones says. “One with dark hair and dark eyes. Her name is Angelina, too. Why you imagine Luis love my poor niece Gina? God rest her soul.”

I shrug. “Luis kissed Gina at the bar the night Bluefish was killed.”

She grins at me. “You jealous? Of Luis...or Gina? Ha ha ha.”

“Ha ha your own bad self.”

I give her the full-boat Carr grin. Don’t want Mama Bones turning me into a zombie.

Mr. Vick’s mother lets the twinkle in her eyes spread across her whole face. Wrinkle by wrinkle. “You such a goof ball, Austin. You lucky I not ten years younger.”

Ten? Hell, twenty wouldn’t give her a shot. “I’m sure you were something, Mama Bones.”

“You better believe.”

I nod and grin like one of those bobble head dolls. I have another question on my mind. “So, before I get back to my kids over there--”

“Where?”

I nod.

“Oh, you got very beautiful children.”

“Thanks. But were you the woman who called me from Clooneys that Saturday night, the person who set me up to see Franny give Gina that DVD?”

The smile on Mama Bones’s face freezes. “How you figure, smarty pants?”

I knew it. “Just a hunch.”

“Hunch, huh?” Mama Bones touches the wart on her chin. Wonder how she found it inside all those wrinkles. “Okay. Yeah, I call. I wanted you to see that state copper with my Gina, God rest her soul. That copper playing everybody on every side of-a fence.”

Mama Bones might have her villains mixed up. Blood can be thicker than truth. “But why show me? What was I going to do about it?”

“You needed to see that Franny was dirty, too, that she was helping Tony’s people get their paws on my son Vittorio’s business.”

I touch Mama Bone’s shoulder. “I’m awfully sorry about Gina, Mama Bones. She was a very special person.”

What I don’t say: I’ll never forget how Gina’s bare breasts looked swinging below the stock of that pump-action. How my heart and gut felt while I watched. In my mind, Ms. Shotgun lives forever.

Mama Bones lowers her gaze. Wonder if she’s up for a promotion now that her boss Bluefish is dead?

“I go back to my table now,” she says. “But my Vittorio be here very very soon. I know he is anxious to see you. But you come over to my table later, okay? I want you to meet my sister’s girl, Nicky.”

“Right after I talk to Vick, Mama Bones. I have some news for him.”

Next week, the final chapter of BIG MONEY.

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