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
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