The gaunt man sat in his wheelchair, a jacket draped over his slightly hunched shoulders. He tilted his head slightly, narrowing his puffy eyes at the informant standing before him. Pulling on the long cigarette filter with his lips, he put a finger over each ear, and in a low, croaking voice, he said, “Sawed-Off...”
The little man who had been standing next to the boss’s chair swung his arms upward, and in his hands was a shotgun with the barrels shortened. Before the informant could move, his kneecaps were blown out from under him. The thug screamed.
The boss pulled the cigarette out of his mouth, and calmly said, “Shortcut...”
The other little man came around the table. Grabbing the man by his hair while he was still on the floor, and jerking backwards, Shortcut drew a switchblade out of his pocket, and in one motion, he clicked it open and slit the informant’s throat enough to stop his voice. Except for the thug’s gagging, all was quiet.
The boss spoke again, “Next time, Pigeon, don’t perch on my fire escape. Call Mr. Byrd an ambulance, gentlemen.”
Shortcut spoke up, “Hey, Mr. Byrd, you’re an ambulance,” followed by Sawed-Off shooting the informant once in the chest.
A thin smile came across the boss’s face, and pulling the cigarette filter from his lips again, he said, “Yeh... that’s a good one.” The two little men high fived one another. Shortcut walked around to the back of the boss’s chair, and reached up to pull the thin man’s jacket a little further over his shoulders. As Sawed-Off went ahead to hold the door, Shortcut started pushing the boss’s chair towards the front of the restaurant. As they were going by the bar, the boss croaked, “Just a second, Shortcut.”
Making a vague wave of his cigarette towards the bartender, he said, “You’re closed today, Thomas. Make sure you call Miss Numbers, and let her know how good you did. Don’t forget to include the cleanup and repairs of your floor.” Pointing over his shoulder with his thumb, he added, “And call Amantialldo, too. Tell him to do something with that side of beef back there.” Looking towards the door, he took a slow drag on his filter. Exhaling suddenly and settling back in the chair, he ended, “Let’s go, Shortcut.”
Thomas came around the bar, and still wiping a glass out, said, “Sure thing, Big Wheel, I’ll take care of it. You wanna take anything with you?”
As Shortcut turned the wheelchair around backwards to pull it over the threshold, Big Wheel waved away the bartender’s offer, smoke from his cigarette trailing after and around his hand. “Nah! Thanks anyway, Tommy. My liver can’t take too much of that stuff anymore.” Jostling over the door sill a little, he added, “Why don’t you have this thing leveled out, while you’re talking to Lotta. Put a ramp in, or something; my kidneys ain’t what they used to be, either.”
Tommy nodded with a friendly smile on his face, and said, “It’s already done, boss. Say hello to Olivya for me.”
Big Wheel’s eyes softened, seeming to get a little puffier, and he hunched over a little more. He motioned for Shortcut to push him back inside the bar. They jostled over the sill again, and a vaguely pained look washed over the boss’s face. Rubbing his side a little, he tilted his head to one side, and after taking a pull off of his cigarette filter, he blew the smoke out in a quick, thin cloud, and said, “You oughtta come by and see her sometime, Thomas. She’s been asking about you.”
Thomas shrugged helplessly, and said, “Talk to her mom, boss. She...”
Big Wheel pushed up on the arms of his chair with his elbows, and with a hoarse shout, yelled, “To hell with talking to her mooomm!” He dragged the word out in a mocking tone. “Her mom left, and she’s living in my house! And I say a girl needs her father! Now, the last time I checked, that was you!” The boss’s hoarse voice became a cough, and recovering himself, he said, “I’ll take that drink, Tommy.”
Tommy reached around the corner of the bar, and pulled a bottle of bourbon and a shot glass from under the counter. He poured a shot, and handed it to Big Wheel. After downing the liquor, and handing the shot back to Tommy, he put his fingers against his Adam’s apple, and cleared his throat. It was a long, wet sound, and after he’d gotten it up, he swallowed, sniffed, and continued on his rant. “You think I give a damn what she wants? She has your baby! She takes out a restraining order, because you had a drinking problem at the time, and then she leaves! Why? Because she wants to be a damn big time singer! So she takes off to Hollywood – Hollywood! And changes her name! If her mother was alive…” He glances at the ceiling quickly, and with smoke trailing from his cigarette, he crosses himself, saying, “God rest her soul, this would kill her!” Big Wheel jammed his cigarette filter between his lips, but jerked it out again, before he really had time to puff on it. Waving it at Tommy, smoke trailing, he continued, “I’m telling you, Thomas, if she wasn’t my own flesh and blood, I’d have her whacked!”
Finally taking another pull on his cigarette, Big Wheel settled back in his chair, and let the smoke out in a long, slow cloud. He started talking again, while Shortcut reached up to straighten out his jacket. “Thomas, you have the day off. You make those two calls, and then you go out somewhere. While you’re out, you find your daughter a gift; a doll, or something nice like that. You get it wrapped up all nice and pretty at a department store somewhere, and at seven o’clock tonight, you bring it over. We’ll have dinner, and you can visit with your little girl. And don’t you worry about no restraining orders, either, you understand? I own the police in this town, and ain’t a one of ‘em haulin’ nobody off from my house for visitin’ family. Alright?”
When Big Wheel stopped talking, Thomas realized he’d been nervously wiping the same bar glass ever since he’d come around the bar. He set the glass and the bar rag down on the counter quickly, and wiping his big hands on his apron, he took one big stride to Big Wheel, and taking one frail hand in both of his, he shook it firmly, and letting it go, he said, “Thanks, boss. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Really. I’ll be there; seven o’clock sharp!”
Big Wheel reached up to Thomas, and slapped his cheek lightly. “You’re her father, Thomas, and she’s my granddaughter. I’ll see you tonight. Let’s go, Shortcut.” Shortcut started backing out the door again, and Big Wheel added, “And Thomas, when you come to the house, don’t call me ‘boss,’ or ‘Big Wheel.’ Call me ‘Mr. Mohne.’ I promised my wife I’d never bring that in her house. She’s gone, but a promise is a promise.”
Thomas nodded, wringing his hands like he was still wiping a bar glass. “Sure, Big... uh, Mr. Mohne. I’ll see you tonight; seven sharp.”
“Yeh, see you Tommy.” Shortcut backed up, turned the wheel chair around, and started pushing it down the sidewalk. Sawed-Off let the door go, and fell in behind them.
Tommy caught the door handle as it slowly swung shut, and firmly pulled it closed. He locked the door and turned the “open” sign to “closed.” As he did, he looked at his watch. It wasn’t even nine-thirty. “How ‘bout that,” he murmured. He turned and picked up the glass and bar rag on his way to the phone, and after setting both in the sink, he picked up the receiver and punched in a number on the base. After a few seconds, he said, “Yeh, this is Knox... Yeh, I’m closed... Lemme speak to Miss Numbers... Sure, not at all; I’ll hold...”
|Please let me know what you think, and thanks! -cb|