A COLD CASE

Word on the street was Louie “No Nose” Lombardo was sprung from the slammer. His early release spelled big trouble; besides seeking revenge, Louie heard his sworn enemy Tony “The Cutter” Tedesco had been sniffing around his wife. 

Louie and Tony weren’t always enemies. In fact when they were kids they were inseparable. They would ride their bikes down to the empty lot where they’d scrounge around for discarded cigarette butts with just enough left for a couple of drags. They played stickball in the street with a broom handle and a Spaldeen. During the summer they’d hitchhike to Orchard Beach and sneak in through an opening in the fence. 

One day around Christmas Louie got caught in Woolworth’s trying to shoplift an angel ornament for his mother. When the store manager realized Louie’s father was held in high regard by the members of La Cosa Nostra, he looked the other way. And he let Louie keep the ornament saying “He didn’t want any trouble”. 

Tony’s father was a mortician for the Sisto Funeral Home and you better believe he knew where the bodies were buried. He wasn’t called “The Undertaker” for nothing. Sometimes the boys would sneak in after a wake to check the big sofa cushion for loose change. 

Louie’s father was the manager of Luca’s Ristorante, a well-known mob hangout. Luca Lombardo knew what side his bread was buttered on; syndicate bosses like Rocco “TNT” Randazzo and their soldiers were all welcome at Luca’s. 

For the first 19 years of their lives nothing or no one could come between Louie and Tony – that is until Rocco brought his  daughter Rosanna to the restaurant. Rosanna was a vixen – long chestnut hair, flawless bronze skin, smoky hazel eyes and a body that could melt the mozzarella right off your pizza. 

Rosanna was a real tease and Tony and Louie fell hard. She hooked up with both, enjoying the game of pitting them against each other, watching their animosity grow like rival nations. After stringing them along for over a year, Rosanna chose Louie. He hungrily kissed his future bride’s mouth as Tony glared at them. 

Rocco gave the couple his blessing along with an extravagant wedding, a lavish honeymoon in Italy and a beautiful house. It wasn’t long before Rocco brought Louie into the family “business”. A year later Rosanna had a baby and her jilted lover Tony was invited to the christening party. Louie paraded Rosanna around the room on his arm like a trophy while Rocco proudly displayed his first grandson. Tony lost it. He and Louie starting fighting. Pushing and shoving led to punches, then the switchblades came out. Suddenly Tony’s brother Angelo lunged at Rocco and Louie intervened, fatally stabbing Angelo. Tony whirled, slicing off most of Louie’s nose. 

At his trial Louie was charged with manslaughter and sent up the river to Dannemora. Rocco told Louie to sit tight; he’d take care of everything; he was indebted to Louie for saving his life. “Whatever you want I’ll make it happen” Rocco pledged. Louie whispered in his ear and Rocco replied “Consider it done.”

Rocco called in some favors, greased a few palms and made the Governor an offer he couldn’t refuse by reminding him of the sex scandal that Rocco made disappear. It all fell into place nicely; Louie was pardoned and released.

Two weeks later Louie was staring at a portrait of Tony next to his closed casket at Sisto Funeral Home. The photo of his one-time best friend had to suffice; after being blown to bits by a car bomb there was nothing left of Tony to look at.  

The police have no leads. 

NAR © 2020

Inspired by Fandango’s One-Word Challenge#FOWCoffer

A LITTLE RAY OF LIGHT

It was a blazing hot day in August of 1971. Sweaty air conditioners were working overtime, filling the streets of Manhattan with an unrelenting drone. I was in the elevator of my apartment building having just returned from physical therapy. There were four other people in the elevator – an exterminator, a mid-twenties hippie chick I knew only as “Rain”, elderly and bitter Abe Samuelson and a very pregnant Asian woman I didn’t know. Abe made a point of moving away from the Asian woman, spitting out the words “savage gooks!” Abe usually wisecracked about my missing arm but today his vitriol was directed elsewhere. Ignorant man. 

The doors closed and we began our slow ascent. Old buildings, temperamental elevators and a heatwave – a bad combination. Somewhere between floors 3 and 4 the elevator jolted to a stop. Before Abe could utter a curse word the elevator churned back to life, coughed a bit and stopped again with an ominous screech. Except for a few groans no one said anything. I pushed the alarm button and reached for the elevator’s emergency phone. Halfway through my call the electricity went out, the AC shut off and my phone connection died. Blackness engulfed us and it started getting uncomfortably warm. 

Abe started cursing and banging the walls, all the while ranting “goddamn fucking dinks – I hate them!” The exterminator was praying in what sounded like Haitian Creole and Rain softly hummed “Let It Be”. I tried unsuccessfully to pry open the doors and reminded everyone that at least part of our emergency call went through so help had to be coming. It was then that I became aware of low guttural moans coming from the Asian woman and in Vietnamese she gasped that the baby was coming. 

I asked exterminator man if he had a flashlight, which he did. Turning it on he handed it to me and everyone calmed down a bit. Amazing what a little ray of light can do. The pregnant woman eased herself onto the floor; I told her I understood Vietnamese from my days as a medic in Nam. I said my name was Jack; her name was Thanh. We talked softly as Abe carried on about his son who died in Vietnam – “And for what?? This trash??” he screamed. The exterminator became more agitated and Rain sat by him holding his hand. 

Thanh told me she married an American soldier in early November 1970 and he brought her back to live in the U.S. with his parents. After two weeks he returned to Vietnam; he was killed November 21st in Operation Ivory Coast. Thanh soon learned she was pregnant. Relations with her in-laws became strained and she moved in here with her cousin. As we sat quietly I thought of that November day. I remembered a soldier flung himself on me as I worked in the MASH unit. He was blown to bits while I only lost my arm. Could that have been Thanh’s husband? 

Suddenly Abe stood up and screamed racial slurs at Thanh. The exterminator sobbed while Rain sang to calm him. I yelled for everyone to “shut up!” And that’s when we heard faint voices. 

“Anyone in there?” 

“Roger that! We’re down here!” I shouted and was rewarded with a resounding “HUA!” 

Haltingly the doors were pried open and a rescue ladder was lowered into the elevator.

“The pregnant lady first.”

Gingerly Thanh made her way up the ladder and was rushed to the hospital. The rest of us climbed to safety.

Call it crazy intuition but I had to get to Tranh

NAR © 2020

THE GRAND OPENING

“Looked only! Didn’t touch!” wailed Eddie, the dishwasher at the Q.E.D. Lounge. The waitstaff came running into the kitchen upon hearing a crash. Shattered crystal covered the kitchen floor – the new shipment of assorted glasses for the lounge’s grand opening. 

Eddie huddled in the corner wiping his runny nose on the sleeve of his sweatshirt, whimpering like a frightened boy. Due to that one decisive extra chromosome, Eddie was very much like a child – a 30 year old man with the mind of an eight year old. Just a little thing called Down Syndrome. Eddie’s brother Jay, the maitre d’, crouched down next to him while everyone stood in stunned silence. 

“Bud, accidents happen. It’s gonna be ok” Jay said calmly. “C’mon. We’ll help you clean up.” 

Without hesitation the crew grabbed brooms and dust pans – everyone except Lou, the belligerent bartender. 

“Don’t look at me. I ain’t helping!” snarled Lou. “It was that Goddamn retard’s fault. He shouldn’t even be around normal people, fucking mongoloid!” 

Jay clenched his fists, eyes glaring at Lou.” Shut your filthy mouth, you miserable son of a bitch! Don’t ever talk about my brother like that!” 

Martin Byrnes, manager of the Q.E.D., stormed into the kitchen. “What the hell’s going on?!” Slowly he looked around, taking in the whole scene.  Martin asked everyone to leave except Eddie, Jay and Lou. 

Martin spoke softly. “Eddie, I’m not mad. The way you help out here represents everything that’s good in this angry world of ours. Can you tell me what happened?” 

Eddie glanced over at Lou then shook his head ‘no’

“Mr. Byrnes is real good to us, Eddie. He deserves the truth” Jay added encouragingly. 

Eddie sniffled and rubbed is swollen eyes. “I saw all the boxes so I went to look at them but I didn’t touch them, cross my heart. Lou, he came in the back door and pushed me into the boxes and they fell.” 

“You lying freak!” yelled Lou. “I was out back chasing that tramp who’s always looking for a handout. Eddie’s mangy mutt was there and he tore a hole in my pants cuff!” 

“Yeah, after you kicked him, I’m sure” declared Jay.  

“Ok, Lou. What happened when you came back into the kitchen?” asked Martin. “Were you so ticked off at the dog that maybe you bumped into Eddie?” 

“Look, Mr. B. I’m telling you I didn’t do nothing” sneered Lou. “Who you gonna believe?” 

“Alright. What’s done is done” sighed Martin. “Jay, you and Eddie finish cleaning up in here. Lou, go down to the basement and bring up whatever glasses you can find. We’re opening tonight as planned.” 

Disgruntled, Lou headed for the basement. He remembered a prior shipment of glasses that Martin didn’t like. Rather than return them they were put in storage. And there they were, two towers of boxes at least six feet fall. 

“Why am I stuck doing this shit job? Where’s that lazy spic busboy?” Lou grumbled. He walked to the delivery entrance and shouted “Hey, Manuel! Get in here!”  

Manuel didn’t answer Lou’s command;  Eddie’s ‘mangy mutt’ did and he growled, hurt by the kick in his ribs from Lou’s patent leather shoe. The dog inched closer, baring his sharp canines.

Lou backed up as fast as he could but not fast enough. The dog sank his teeth into the bartender’s calf and wouldn’t let go. He meant business and was out for revenge … for himself and for Eddie. 

Lou was thrust into the stacks of boxes, splintered wood and jagged glass crashing down on him. As a final coup de grâce, Eddie’s dog lifted his hind leg, pissed on Lou and trotted out the door. 

NAR © 2020

DAD’S DESK

“Looked at them?! Are you kidding me? They’re phenomenal!! I thought my eyes were gonna bug outta my head!”  laughed my twin brothers Paul and Patrick. I obviously walked in on them in the middle of a private conversation – probably about girls or sports – two subjects constantly on their 15 year old minds. They quickly shuffled the books and papers on Dad’s desk into one big pile, their faces turning red.

“What are you doing here, Jenny? Aren’t you supposed to be at math club?” Patrick asked nervously. 

“Yes but today’s session was cancelled because our math teacher had a meeting. But what I’m doing here isn’t nearly as interesting as what you’re doing here in Dad’s study.” 

Paul and Patrick both started talking at once, turning bright red and getting more nervous every second while fiddling with the mound of papers on the desk. “Who, us?” asked Paul. “Just the usual. We were talking about who represents the greatest baseball players of the ‘90s … you know like A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens.” 

“Yeah, that’s right” agreed Patrick. “We were looking at our baseball cards and magazines and comparing stats. No big deal.” 

“Oh, is that so?” I challenged. “Then explain to me why you sounded so excited if it was ‘no big deal’ and why you’re here in Dad’s study using his desk – which you know is off limits – when all your baseball cards, magazines and what have you are upstairs in your bedroom?” 

My brothers started squirming as I continued. 

“I know you boys and I’m sure you’re up to something. Where are all your cards? Where are all your magazines? I don’t see anything baseball related at all. So you see by this simple matter of deduction, your lame answers are wrong and my reasoning is right. Q.E.D.!” 

The boys looked at each other, quickly gathered their piles of papers and books and began running to the stairs and the safety of their bedroom. In their haste to get away from me, everything they were holding slipped from their arms and fell to the floor. 

And there it was … the thing they were so desperately trying to hide … the latest issue of Playboy with Farrah Fawcett in all her glory on the cover. 

I gasped in righteous indignation. “I’ve never been more ashamed of you two! That’s a filthy sex magazine! Do you know what she is??” 

Paul sighed deeply and whispered “She’s a goddess.”

“Yeah, a goddess” repeated Patrick breathlessly. 

“She is not a goddess!” I yelled. “She’s a Hollywood slut, a tramp … at least that’s what Mom says.”

“I don’t think Dad would agree with that” replied Paul. “After all, it’s his magazine.” 

Dad’s?!?” My hands flew to my face in shock and all my books fell to the floor. 

“Well, what have we here?” quipped Patrick. “Playgirl magazine, Jenny? I’m appalled!” Paul pretended to faint. 

“Oh, you too think you’re real funny. I bet you won’t be laughing when I tell you it’s Mom’s magazine!” 

Mom’s?!?” the boys shouted in unison. “But she’s … Mom!!” 

“I’d say we’re at a standoff, wouldn’t you, boys?” I said conspiratorially “Let’s put both these magazines back in the desk where we found them.” 

“And no one will be the wiser” agreed Paul. 

Just then we realized our parents were standing right there! 

Dad spoke seriously. “Well, obviously you’ve broken the rules and can’t be trusted. You were caught red-handed and now you must pay the price. You’re all grounded for two weeks. Q.E.D.” 

I’m sure on my way upstairs I heard Mom teasingly say “Good thing they didn’t find our movie collection.” Dad laughed conspiratorially. “Come here, my little vixen” he said in a voice strangely like Ricardo Montalbán.

Ew! Gag me with a spoon! 

NAR © 2020