Bruno didn’t feel confident he could take them, so he surrendered his piece over Mario’s guys. They frisked him anyway, but he kept his cool—the only way he’d survive. He thought about running when he got the call, but you followed a code when you were in this life, even though he gave himself fifty-fifty odds. They showed him to the rear bar where Mario, that bloated animal, made a sandwich.
“A thousand thank yous for coming up on short notice,” he said and squeezed Bruno’s hand.
“No problem,” Bruno lied. It was a big fucking problem dragging his ass to Jersey City with the Cuba shipment sailing up the coast. But when Mario summoned you, the commission summoned you.
“We heard three of your crew got picked up by the feds yesterday from some beach bar. Jimmy Shells,” Bruno added.
“At the Wildwood Marina?” Mario layered ham and cheese on a roll, and his necklace—a diamond-studded stencil of his name—dipped into a bowl of mustard. He wasn’t dead yet. Maybe he had a shot, he thought, and surveyed the room, coming up with a plan: tables, a bar, back entrance. Bruno couldn’t help but notice that Mario left a safe behind the bar open: several stacks of hundred-dollar bills, two old-fashioned flip phones and a .32 H&R Magnum revolver, which he assumed was loaded. How could he just leave it open like that? Mario probably figured no one would dare rob a made guy of his rank.
“A lot of nice boats,” Mario said, sprinkling peppers. “I’m gonna get me a yacht when I retire, take Connie down to Key West.” He brought his plate over to the bar, and his necklace smeared mustard on the tufts of black hair that grew over the collar of his white t-shirt.
“So not that I don’t enjoy the pleasure of your company—but why did I just drive two hours?” Bruno tried to sound confident, oblivious, invoking the wisdom passed down from his Uncle Joey: Act like you got a secret when you don’t know shit. Be clueless when you do.
Joey never showed up to his trial after he got pinched for dealing. He vanished after stopping off for a farewell drink at Mario’s bar. That wasn’t going to do down with him, so he played ignorant, trying to figure out the scenario.
“Storms on the horizon,” Mario said, biting off a hunk of hoagie. Bruno gagged, watching the animal eat. “Our guy in Trenton says they’re being arraigned in the morning.”
“My guys’ll stand up,” Bruno said and scanned the room for a weapon. An unopened wine bottle made a pretty good club, even a better missile.
“They raided the house in Princeton. Went right for the stash under the dishwasher. They knew. The fucking Feds knew.”
An old analog clock hanging above the bar ticked away each second with an audible click: tick, tick, tick. . .
Acid erupted in Bruno’s throat. He got a Tums out of his jacket pocket. “Why the fuck are you telling me?”
“The bosses drew a line right to your door, buddy.”
“I’m no fucking rat.”
“Take it easy, buddy,” Mario said. “I know you’re not a rat.” Bruno’s heart pounded in his ears.
“How sure are so sure?”
“Cause I’m the fucking rat,” Mario said. He took another bite of the hoagie then pulled his piece out of his jacket and aimed it at Bruno’s eye. But he didn’t fire. “However, there’s some room to maneuver here.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Bruno said.
“Your next shipment: when and how? Tell me, and I’ll give you a head start. No one will believe you if you say anything, anyway.”
“And in return you get a juicy tidbit to hand to your paymasters and a scapegoat on the run. Tidy.” No matter what Mario said, Bruno knew he wasn’t leaving this room alive. The commission outlawed dealing, so even if he could prove himself innocent of betraying the family, they’d still whack him for dealing—even though everyone did it. Bruno only had one shot, courtesy of Mario’s overconfidence.
“I’ve got a cartel guy, Juan Santos. He sells Spanish bibles and drives a truck up from Florida every month.
“Bibles and H!” Mario said. “Joey would be proud of you. Shame about your uncle. Stand up guy.”
Bruno kept his cool, refusing to let the cruel fuck antagonize him. He had to make sure that Mario felt in control.
“Maybe we could work something out,” Bruno said.
“Sure, buddy. Just tell me where he makes the drop.”
“Twenty-five percent for my trouble?” Bruno asked, acting relieved. “Mind if I make myself a drink while we talk?” Mario nodded but kept the piece trained on him.
Bruno stepped behind the bar, picked up a shot glass but fumbled it. “I don’t have the nerve for this anymore,” he said, trying to slow his breathing. “I did when I was young. Back then, I would have known you were the rat when I walked in here. But we get comfortable. We miss shit.” He knelt down, picked up the glass from in front of the safe then stood up.
“Pour me one too,” Mario said.
Bruno picked up a bottle of Jameson then swung it, cracking Mario’s skull. The hoagie flew off the bar, raining sliced lunchmeat, tomatoes, and onions onto the barstools.
Mario recovered fast and pointed his piece, but Bruno unloaded the revolver he grabbed out of the safe. His guys must have been expecting a gunshot, because no one came to check on things, and Bruno used the confusion to empty the safe into an empty gin box then slip out the back. It would just be enough to get himself setup in the islands now that his career in LCN was over.
Bruno wouldn’t miss the life. If he stayed, he'd just get fat and overconfident – like Mario.
About the author:
T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. He’s a cancer survivor, modern bard, herbalist, baker and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books, and is in production by Throughline Films. He’s contributed to official Stargate canon with a story published in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from Fandemonium Books. More information at tfoxdunham.com & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
He’d charge over to the window like a nimble NFL linebacker taking a bead on a wide receiver—only no wide receiver could outrun a Western Lowland gorilla.
She loved the gentleness in that big body. They were separated by the mere thickness of laminated glass; separated by less in DNA: a gorilla is 98.67% human. His majestic head turned shyly, watching her nibble a PB & J, his intent mocha eyes locking on hers.
Break time over, she placed her hand on the glass. He covered it with a huge paw, dwarfing hers. He tore pumpkins to pieces with those hands as easily as peeling the “jackets” off Spanish peanuts.
The 600-pound silverback watched her walk away.
The afternoon was taken up with doing inventory for supplies and feeding the bonobos and chimpanzees.
Daryl told her to handle the lion tamarins’ medication, the squirrel-sized monkeys with flowing manes. Planning to become a veterinarian, she wasn’t fazed by the pungent smell of diarrhea. Grabby-hands Daryl leered at her with his moist eyes. Her stomach twisted with squirmy distress.
Avoiding him was a constant challenge because he used every excuse to isolate her from the others. She ignored the lewd suggestions he made when no one else was around to hear. A formal accusation was hopeless because Daryl’s “posse” stood ready to lie for him. She told herself to tough it out until college started in the fall.
Yesterday, while dressing for shift, two girls demanded to know why she was “bad-mouthing” him.
“I’m not,” she replied. Lying was another of his devious tactics to separate her.
Kelly sneered: “You should show more respect.”
“Maybe he should show me respect!”
“C’mon, Kell. Don’t waste your breath on this stuck-up bitch.”
God, it’s high school all over again with mean girls at your locker demanding you stay away from a boyfriend . . .
Smutty innuendo and bumping her backside weren’t all. Knowing her fondness for Bakari, Daryl mocked him by miming the gorilla’s knuckle-dragging pacing in front of the glass. If Kelly and her sidekick were near, he’d embellish the performance with howls and grunts.
At the safety meeting at four, Daryl lectured his staff on “animal escape preparedness”.
“I’m cutting it short today, gang,” he announced, checking his wristwatch. “Janice and I are feeding Bakari.”
That meant Daryl had starved him all day for no reason. She stifled her anger. When the others left, he ordered her to meet him at the access gate.
“You have the red key,” he said, handing it to her. “I’m yellow.”
“It’s late to be feeding him, isn’t it?”
“Are you refusing an order, Janice?”
“No, I’m concerned Bakari hasn’t been fed yet.”
“He’s a dumb ape. Silence now. I’m initiating protocols.”
“We’re supposed to agree on the mission first—”
“Don’t tell me my job, you little—”
“I’m reporting you for breaking silence protocol,” he said. “You can forget about your internship here, and if I have anything to say, I’ll see that your veterinary scholarship is revoked, too.”
“Why? Because I won’t let you paw me every time we’re alone?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Once protocol was declared, all conversation had to stop; each one of the two-person team must repeat what the other reported.
“Confirming Bakari’s location,” Daryl said. “The big stupid ape is sitting by the window.”
“Bakari is sitting by the window,” she confirmed robotically, her rage against Daryl building. Bakari heard them at the gate; he swung his massive head around and exposed his long, sharp canines.
“Unlocking the access door with the yellow key,” Daryl said.
“Unlocking the access door with my red key.”
Each access door was secured with a different colored lock and neither could be opened without both keepers present. The color-coded system was slow but prevented one keeper from entering a space where a dangerous animal might be present but unseen.
“Set his food inside the shift door,” Daryl ordered.
“We’re supposed to do that together.”
She placed the container inside and retreated behind the locked gate, waiting for Bakari to come so that she could lock him into the shift cage.
Bakari lumbered over to the cooler stuffed with forty pounds of leafy vegetables, apples, high-fiber biscuits, and bamboo shoots.
“So what do you think now?”
Janice stood between Daryl and Bakari in their respective cages. Similar to being in a shark cage—except that Bakari’s physical strength was untested against the metal bands. “Daryl, what are you doing? Let me back inside.”
“Look, your big-ass ape is shoveling food into his face. You have nothing to worry about.”
He switched keys while she carried the food over to the other cage. Bakari’s presence in the narrow shift cage was unnerving, locked padlock or not.
“You asshole! Let me back in! Bakari’s cage door is unlocked!”
She cast a nervous look over her shoulder at Bakari, noisily eating, but regarding her.
He jammed his thumb down his pants and poked it through his zipper, wiggling it, thumb miming for his pecker.
She cast another nervous glance over to Bakari again. He stood up and beat his chest. The big canines flashed.
Her heart thumped. Then nothing.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on a cot in the zoo’s emergency room. A doctor told her the zoo was in lockdown.
She sat up, groaned. “What . . . happened?”
“You fainted. No wonder. That gorilla picked you up and set you down inside the enclosure.”
“Not so lucky. He tore a bar off that cage and yanked Daryl through. He was spaghettified, not a bone left unbroken.”
“They hit him with the tranquilizer gun,” she replied. “He’s sleeping it off.”
The girl mumbled. The doctor wondered whether to order a PET scan for a possible concussion.
“You don’t have to thank me, sweetie. I’m a doctor.”
I didn’t thank you, Janice thought, smiling.
About the author:
Robb White has several crime, noir, and hardboiled novels and has published crime stories in various magazines and anthologies. His private eye, Raimo Jarvi, has appeared in Northtown Eclipse and Northtown Blitz. A third Raimo Jarvi novel is scheduled for later this summer.