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Excerpt from Nicky Two-Fists

Icing a skimmer isn’t my bag, but when the mob needed a hit man for a particular job, they picked me because the mark is Putsy, my half-assed brother-in-law. This is not something I want to do, but being connected to organized crime means sooner or later you have to make your bones. And today is payday. Word on the street says I’m quick to use my fists, but I’ve never killed a man before.

At dusk, I hide my car and walk the last four blocks to Ridgeway’s Research Laboratory. I climb two flights of stairs and wipe sweat from the back of my neck. Old bulbs flicker and hum in the laboratory’s three-story parking garage, and the only place to duck behind is an overfilled Dumpster. The stench is enough to gag a maggot. I put my hand over my nose and lean against the wall.

For twenty years my mother worked second shift alongside Putsy’s mother at Didio’s Pants Factory to provide for my kid sister, Josie, and me. Mama, our sole caretaker, took us places and made sure we ate. She was also a stickler for good grammar, and to this day, when I’m in knowledgeable company, I can be as high-brow as the next smart-ass.

When Mama passed, she left the house on Brick Street in Hoboken’s Little Italy to me and Josie. My sister and I weren’t close-knit, but after our mother’s death, Josie was all alone and I was in the throws of a divorce, so we moved in together. Josie took care of the house and I paid the bills. It wasn’t a bad life. Most of the time I wasn’t there, and when I was, she stayed out of my way.

During that time, I didn’t pay much attention to Putsy, whose one claim to fame was a freckled arm so accurate it could toss a rolled-up Hoboken Reporter to the base of a front door from fifty feet—an achievement that didn’t pay enough to feed him, let alone put a roof over his head. I thought he was a little slow and too old to be our delivery boy, but I treated him okay since I knew that from the time he was able to walk, his father used to beat the living daylights out of him.    

Both our dads were full-blooded dagos who sucked up booze seven days a week down at Mario’s Bar and had a three-pack-a-day habit of unfiltered Camels, which was probably what sent them to an early grave. Back when my father passed on, Mama cried for months. I don’t know why. Before I was big enough to defend her, he spent more time smacking her around than he did working. Mama’s last few years were filled with grief, arthritis, and loneliness. I guess she didn’t remember the bad times.

Josie had big beautiful eyes and child-bearing hips. She’d spent her entire life taking care of Mama. Her only friends were the neighbors and the paper boy. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Father Gabriel read the banns during Sunday Mass.The pompous priest informed the whole damn congregation about the soon-to-take-place marriage ceremony of Josephine Salvatoro and Putsy, the newspaper-carrying cafone.

After the announcement, it was brought to my attention that Josie was already a little bit pregnant, so I agreed to a quick church wedding and an open bar reception at the Sons of Italy Lodge. Putsy wanted Josie to move in with him and his mother, but Josie wouldn’t leave Mama’s house. On my sister’s wedding day, I consented to let the shit-faced groom move in with us.

My sister was thirty-five and I was past forty when it dawned on me that I was about to be the sole support of my sister’s family. I swore to Gus, one of the Family’s trusted associates, that Putsy was a stand-up guy, and a mob runner broke him in as a bagman. No one in the neighborhood seemed to notice when the red-headed paperboy sold his bike, bought a dented ten-year-old Cadillac, and started to make the weekly meet with one of the Mafia’s smaller drug dealers.

For five years life went on as usual, but after Josie gave birth to her second son, she joined The Rosary Society at St. Peter and Paul’s church and put the boys in day-care. She now spent more time at Mass than she did at home, and Putsy and I had to fend for ourselves. When I felt the need for a home-cooked meal or clean clothes, I’d lay out at Taffy’s apartment for a few days. Like most of my lady friends, she’d wash my clothes and feed me.

Putsy whiled away the hours watching game shows and reruns. He no longer had a wife who catered to his every need, so he told everybody he planned to win the lottery and hire a maid. However, it wasn’t Putsy’s lazy ass or working for the syndicate that got him into trouble. With too much time on his hands and not enough brains in his head, he turned to betting on the ponies. He knew if he dropped any cash on a card game I’d soon get wind of it.

When Putsy started losing, his bookie threatened to break both of Putsy’s arms if he didn’t pay up. The Putz shoulda come to me. Instead, he cut a small packet of mob cocaine with a little innocent powder and sold it on the side to cover his past-due bets. The deal might have gone unnoticed, but he sold the stomped-on coke to a guy who used middle school gangs to push his drugs. The diluted cocaine surfaced in the purse of Toupee Tony’s granddaughter, and I got a phone call.

It still pisses me off to think I stood up for the fool. Like a jackass, I told Gus, “It’s a one-time mistake. I’ll have a word with the cazzone, and I guarantee it won’t happen again.” When I got home, I kicked Putsy’s ever-widening rump from the front of the house to the back. I musta jolted his pea-size brain in the wrong direction, since he figured out that if he made that much of a haul on a small amount of coke, he could knock down a lot more on a deal of his own.

Gus, not noted for his lack of intelligence, had a tail on Putsy. The shadow reported my brother-in-law was running a small drug business of his own and drawing a hefty profit.

“Ain’t no punk gonna cut himself in for a piece of the territory,” Gus told me on the second phone call. “You take care of him or your sister can select matching coffins for the two of youse.”

So that’s how I come to find myself hunkered down behind this Dumpster scanning Ridgeway’s deserted parking garage. I have no say in this matter, nor have I done anything to warrant a penance. Sometimes you use the best tomatoes and the finest sausage, and it doesn’t make any difference. For some unknown reason, the sauce turns out crappy and you look like a short-order-cook.

Tires squeal as a car rounds the sharp curves that lead to the third floor of the parking garage. Putsy’s rusty Cadillac slides to a stop five rows over from where I’m hiding, and he stays inside the car reading a comic book. I guess he got here early. I wanna do the job with one bullet. No need for him to suffer. I screw the silencer onto my .38 Colt Cobra and whisper, “Come on, get outta the car, you mindless idiot.” I wanna be outta here before the suppliers arrive, but I’m unable to get a clear line of fire.

Headlights grab my attention as some shady looking white trash arrives in an old Volkswagen. A throwback from the sixties with a brown ponytail climbs out of the passenger side. Ah, crap, it’s that piece-of-shit, Kyle the pedophile, or as he’s known on the streets—KTP.

Josie’s simple-minded husband heaves his massive butt from the sagging leather seat and waddles over to meet the hippie. This is not part of my plan, but taking out this lowlife would be doing the town a favor.

“How much you got, Bro?” Ponytail sticks out his fist and bumps it against Putsy’s.

“Six big ones—all counted and clean.” Putsy adjusts his Yankees cap.

KTP scopes out the contents of the open pouch. He nods to an old guy with stringy gray hair who crawls from behind the wheel of the VW. The driver stoops and pulls banded packets of bills from the duffel and shoves them inside his windbreaker. He tosses a clear plastic package to Putsy.

Toupee Tony, the mob’s underboss, will raise hell if I take out all three of them, but my plan is for Gus to tell him it’ll appear like a drug deal gone bad instead of a mob hit. He’ll see it my way, especially when I throw in the added value of putting two more of his competitors out of business.

Ponytail squints in my direction and makes a quick move, I catch a glimmer of light as it reflects off the hippie’s steel rod and I think he sees me. I level the gun and get a bead on the kiddie-diddler. My first shot hits him square in the chest and drops the retard with the weapon.

The driver, another pervert the police haven’t been able to catch in the act, even though he’s been flashing kids for twenty years, scrambles toward the yellow Bug. I fire the second round at the back of his gray head. Blood and brains splatter, his shoulder slams against the car, and his scrawny frame slides to the pavement. This gives my intended target time to focus on me.

“Nick! Why’d you shoot these guys? They’re friends of mine.”

“Sorry, Putz.” And I mean it. It’s not his fault he’s a loser.

The third bullet penetrates Putsy’s right eye and knocks him off his feet. He spirals toward the deck and collapses in a crumbled mass. The packet of coke soars into the air and splits open when it bounces off the edge of an iron column. White powder spreads a film of dry snow on the cement.

A quick glance around tells me I’m still alone. Ridgeway Lab empties at five and doesn’t employ a night guard. No one comes up here this late.

Tomorrow’s gonna be a bitch. The police will deliver the bad news. Josie’s gonna cry, and I’ll act shocked. Worse yet, I’ll have to make arrangements for the poor sap’s funeral. My over-dramatic sister will blame me for her husband’s indoctrination into the Camorra. And she’s right. Hooking Putsy up with the mob was the worst mistake I ever made. I’da never offered to get him connected if Josie and the boys could’ve survived on what her useless husband made on his paper route.

My nephews are too young to miss their daddy for long, and Josie can find another man if she stops playing “bless me, Father, for I have sinned” with Father Gabriel three nights a week after choir practice. Not that I blame her for shopping outside her marriage for a little extra activity. Putsy has the mentality of a night crawler and about as much sex appeal as a box of rocks. Even after his two sons were big enough to walk, the fool didn’t notice they had Father Gabriel’s dark hair, deep dimples, and pudgy nose.

I walk slowly toward the slumped bodies. The leather soles of my Vigotti’s thud against the hard pavement. I pump another blast into each of the lifeless forms. A goomba takes nothing for granted.

All six chambers are spent, and a thin stream of smoke curls from the empty barrel. I stand over the three stiffs looking for any sign of life. Blood oozing from the old man’s chest creeps along the slanted floor toward a water drain. I step back and reach into my pocket for six fresh shells.

Cold metal presses between my shoulder blades. 

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