The Wedding Present

Nicola showered, rubbed moisturizer on his skin, shaved and splashed some Aramis cologne on his taut olive skin. He combed his fair brown hair while noticing his receding hairline and glanced at his manicured fingernails. He examined the scar on his belly where the Polacks’ knife had almost put an end to him in that mad moment six months ago. He dried himself with the heavy Turkish cotton bath towel and tied it around his waist, walked over to the large picture window in the living room and gazed down on Oakland from his lavish Berkeley Hills Condo. He drank in the view. It was dusk and the setting sun was throwing an orange tint over the entire Bay Area. It was the time of day he liked the most. The thought that all the squares would be sitting down to dinner with the wife and kids about now while the predators were just getting ready to prowl always made him feel alive.

He tore the packaging from a new set of underwear and laid out his tan Armani suit, white silk tie, new brown and white Spectator shoes, silk socks, brown Borsolino hat and tan kid gloves on the bed and checked his pistol which he had spent last night cleaning to make sure it was in perfect working order. He took two extra clips from the safe in the credenza, loaded them with hollow point bullets and set them next to his custom-made Italian leather shoulder holster. He took the bone handled razor-sharp knife with its leg strap sheath from the drawer and examined it then laid it on the bed. He fixed a fresh coffee and sat at his kitchen table feeling the weight of the wedding invitation in his hand, examining the flamboyant calligraphy and the sumptuous paper stock. He re-read it a few more times. “Sammy and Angelica request your presence”….

He met the Limo at the curb and sat back quietly while the car sped across town. The driver parked at the entrance to the brownstone building and came around to Nicola’s door and opened it for him. “Have a good evening sir”, the driver said. Nicola handed him a crisp new hundred-dollar bill. “You too Pal”, Nicola said.

As Nicola walked down the narrow hall and approached the inner sanctum to the clubhouse of his rival he caught the last bit of a sentence one of the hoodlums said to his companion as they were leaving. “Bury him” was all he heard. Nicola did not break his confident stride as the girl at the ticket table called after him; “sir, sir, you have to buy a ticket”, as he strolled into the party. The bartender heard her pleas and waved to the girl offhandedly in a gesture that she took as his approval to let Nicola pass. In the seconds it took to reach the bar he thought to himself that he might never see Angelica again.

She was the only thing in his life that didn’t come at him like a balled up fist, the only thing that wasn’t trying to hurt him or kill him or pull him down and humble him. He wanted to smell her, to touch her, to listen to her laugh. She was cocaine right to his brain so he couldn’t let go, couldn’t stop thinking about her.

Everybody gets everything they want he thought. He had wanted a love affair back then when they met, and for his sins the gods had brought her up to him like room service, brought her right to his door gift wrapped special delivery. It was a real choice love affair, a real stormy romance, and when it was over, he’d never want another.

She was the reason he was here. But it was destiny that had placed him at this perfect moment to hear those words, so he vanquished the thought of her and focused like a laser on the moment. He hadn’t planned it or even thought it out. He came here this night on impulse; an unspoken voice in his head had led him from the safety of his neighborhood to this perilous dungeon like a man possessed. He knew men had been tortured and murdered in the huge walk-in cooler in the back room of this cellar turned banquet hall, strung up, bled out and chopped up like beef. Men he knew.

Everything seemed to cycle down to slow motion. It was a phenomenon that was sometimes spoken of by athletes being interviewed after a perfect winning play. When asked what they had thought at that moment, they’d say. “Everything slowed down. The ball looked as big as a watermelon. I couldn’t miss it. It fell right in my hands”. Nicola knew that feeling and was aware that it happened only at rare crossroads of destiny. He knew then that either all would be well tonight or all would be over and he didn’t care which one. It was the kind of moment that he lived for. He put the tip of his index finger to his neck where he felt the gold cross she had gifted him against his skin. He said a Hail Mary under his breath. He was in a state of grace. He felt holy.

He made a bee line toward the group of five men at the bar like he was bullet proof with no particular expression on his face. As he crossed the room he noticed the posture of the men clustered around the bar imperceptibly slump, all except Jake the Giant who puffed himself up trying to look even bigger than his six-foot three-inch frame. Jake’s’ face turned mean. The faces of the other men turned from assertive to a look Nicola took as insecure. It was just the reception he’d hoped his surprise visit would elicit. Nicola saw Blond Billy out of the corner of his eye sitting inconspicuously off in a corner whispering something in the ear of a beautiful girl. He caught Billy’s eye spy him. Billy never missed much. This is pure luck he thought to himself. He and Billy went back a long way and he knew Billy would be there to back him up if things went sideways.

He stopped for a moment at the end of the table closest to the bar, took out his handkerchief and blew his nose and then slowly folded the Irish cotton square that had his initials embroidered in blue script on it and put it back in his rear pocket. Nicola looked over the group, hesitating for a moment at each familiar face. He opened the button on his linen jacket and calmly pulled out a chair about three feet from the table and sat. He propped one foot up on the table tilting the chair back on its two back legs showing the sole of his shoe to the group. This caused his jacket to fall gracefully at his sides revealing the tan leather shoulder holster and the ivory butt of his nine millimeter pistol.

He didn’t really care that much about Sammy anymore. Well he cared, but it was sort of humpbacked and crooked. He and Sammy had suffered a falling out over their mutual affection for Angelica and they hadn’t even spoken in a year. But this was something different altogether. This was about loyalty, loyalty that transcended women or money or maybe even honor, which in his mind, in his code of ethics, transcended everything else. He wasn’t going to allow anyone to hurt either Sammy or his Angelica. And moreover this was a street thing. He knew if these mongrels got to Sammy they’d get brave and maybe next time it would be him.

Nicola took out a cigarette, lit it and exhaled. He motioned to the bartender who was staring at him as were the other men. “Tequila” Nicola said. The bartender poured the drink and the waitress brought it to him. He inspected the glass, ignored the salt shaker and the lemon wedge, picked up the shot glass and sniffed the contents. He pulled a sour face and pushed the drink away. Reaching into his inside jacket pocket he produced a silver flask, opened it and took a hit.

Nicola now fixed his gaze on the men and said slowly; “Who’s talking about whacking Sammy Z”?  The group of men looked at each other but no one spoke. Then Jake the Giant quickly spoke up and said in a voice tinged with anger derived from fear; “You think you can walk in here alone” Jake said.

Nicola didn’t answer. Instead he gave a smirk and a crazed look of madness like we was holding back a rage that could explode at any second. It was so quiet for that moment that Nicola heard only the sounds of the sausages sizzling behind the bar. Little Paulie put his hands up to his chest palms open and extended out as if he were fending off an attack. “We got no beef with you Nicky. This is between Sammy and us. He owes. I thought you guys were on the outs anyway”, Little Paulie said.

“That’s between me and him. This is me and you and you and you too,” Nicola said slowly, pointing at each one of the men and then stopping his gaze on Jake. “I’m buying all his debts. You got a collection to make? You put it in my column”, Nicola said.  “Fine”, no problem; we don’t need no trouble; it’s settled then. When you can pay”, asked Paulie. Nicola gazed straight at Paulie and gave his answer a three beat hesitation. “When I get around to it”, Nicola said as he let his index finger tap the butt of his pistol slowly three times.

Nicola broke the mood by rising slowly from his chair and buttoned his jacket. He glanced at the men and gave them a sly smile. Then he took off the glove from his left hand, his non shooting hand, and extended it out over the table and rested it inches above the open flame of a candle in one of the luxuriant silver candelabra that adorned the ornate tablecloth and exhaled through his teeth.

Within seconds the flesh of his palm turned black and a woman shrieked in disgust from the smell of burnt flesh that now permeated the area. Nicola sneered and looked right in Jake the Giants eyes as Jake watched first Nicola and then the flame burn into Nicola palm. Nicola held it there for another second then withdrew it without the slightest expression of pain. Nicola then pointed the index finger of his scorched hand right at Jake then opened his palm to show him the burnt flesh.

Billy rose from his chair and loudly, joyfully exclaimed from across the room, “Oh, Oh, Nicky!” Everyone at the bar turned to see Billy cross the room to meet Nicola. Billy embraced Nicola and leaning into his ear he said” time to go”, and then, ignoring the group of men like they did not exist, both men turned their backs and left the room without a word. After they got in the hallway leading to the street and out of ear shot of anyone, Billy said, “Did that hurt”? “Yea, it hurt”, Nicola said. “I can’t believe no one pulled on us and we made it out of there alive”, Billy said. “By the way, what’s the trick”, Billy said? “The trick? The trick, Nicola said, is not minding that it hurts”.

They made their way outside into the coolness of the fall night. Nicola took out a cotton handkerchief from his front suit pocket and wrapped it around his charred hand and put his glove on over it. Billy hit the button that cancelled the alarm on his vintage 1955 Chevy Nomad. They both got in and sat silent for a minute taking in the events that had just transpired. “You know that Jake is a crazed homicidal killer, right? I mean he scares me man”, Billy said. “Yea, well, everybody bleeds”, Nicola said. “You know he’ll kill you for nothing and then sit down to a steak dinner”, Billy said. “We all gotta die from something”, Nicola said with a wry chuckle. Billy laughed. “You were always tougher than me”, Billy said. “Yea, I always thought I was just crazier” Nicola said. They both laughed.

Nicola’s cell phone rang and he took it from the inside pocket of his jacket and flipped open the top. “Yea”, Nicola said. The voice on the other end of the phone spoke for a full minute and while Nicola said nothing he looked to Billy to be pensive. Finally he said, “I’m on my way” and hung up. Billy put the key in the ignition, cranked over the motor and flipped on the lights, “Where to”, Billy asked? “Anywhere but here, Nicola said. Stab it and steer”.    

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About circusinpurgatory
Nick Masesso Jr’s fictionalized short stories, poetry and prose have been published in the Starry Night Review, Elegant Thorn Review, Language and Culture.net and Vagabond Press; the Battered Suitcase. His latest book “Armor of Innocence” and first book “Walking the Midway in Purgatory, a Journal” are available on-line and through bookstores.

2 Responses to The Wedding Present

  1. sarahjaneprosetry says:

    Brilliant.

  2. James Mcfarland says:

    5.5 rating, looks rushed, cranking out fast is not impressive. Repeated word “was” all over the place, and in same sentence. Missing commas, grammar, quotation marks, don’t know when character is done talking. Rewrite, can’t print this.

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