By Patrick J. Lambe

     After waiting about fifteen minutes in backed up traffic on Route 18, Uncle Sal decided he’d had enough. He climbed out of the passenger seat of my BMW 745, stalked down the column of idling cars. We were late to a meeting about a new scam Uncle Sal was all jazzed up about. I didn’t know anything about the deal. I was told to imitate an extra from the Godfather: the man behind the man.

      I sat in the driver’s seat for almost a minute, flipping stations till I came to a news program, heard what was causing the back up. I hopped out of the passenger’s and ran after Sal.

      The first protestor was lying on her back in the passing lane: a beautiful blond chick dressed in short cut offs and a tie died ‘Ween’ shirt. I was surprised I recognized her. Some tree hugger from the Political Science night course I was taking at Middlesex Community College.

      “Have you seen a guy walk pass you, mid forties, dark hair, dressed in a running suit.”

      I could tell she recognized me from class. “Yeah, he just asked me who was in charge of the protest.  I pointed him over to my boyfriend Mark.” She pointed south, and I made my way through the throng of hippies lying all over the highway.

      I was relived when I saw Uncle Sal walking towards me.

      “Can you believe this shit? These kid’s don’t know how spoiled we are in this country,” he said when he caught up to me.

      “You didn’t do anything we’ll be reading about in the papers tomorrow.”

      “Not yet, but I’m walking back to your car to get the bat out of the trunk.”

      “You sure that’s a good idea Uncle Sal?”

      He thought about it for a few seconds. “You’re right Tony, it’s not a good idea.” He turned around and headed back the way he came, stopping in front of a longhaired kid.

      He was around my age, skinny white kid with a goatee; a holier than thou expression framed by ridiculous looking reddish blond dreadlocks.

      “So you’re calling off the protest. Heading back to the dorm for a game of hacky sack?” Sal said.

      “We won’t stop till they repeal the tuition hike,” the kid said.

      Sal kicked him a few times in the stomach before he grabbed him by his daishiki and hauled him to his feet. A couple of kids got up and started toward Sal. I stepped in front of them and gave them my best wiseguy look. I heard someone identify himself as a State Trooper behind me.

      A huge guy - 6’4, 240- was putting a set of cuffs on the kid. I saw his two toned eyes –mostly brown with the bottom hemisphere of the left one a milky bluish white- fill with amusement as he muscled the kid toward an unmarked cop car. Vernon Herczog, New Jersey State Police, Organized Crime Division. His partner, a black guy named Fisk had Uncle Sal on the ground. He was putting the cuffs on him. They must have been tailing us.

      I heard an ambulance sound off a few hundred feet up in the traffic jam, from the direction where I’d left my idling car. Herczog threw the kid onto the hood of his unmarked.

      “Tony Carlisle, I always wondered why you don’t have a proper wop name. What a coincidence meeting you and Uncle Sal here in the middle of Route 18.You two don’t seem like the protesting type,” He said as he frisked the kid.

      “The tree hugger started it,” I said.

      “Sure he did son, sure he did.”

      A pair of local New Brunswick cops ran up to us. One of them said, “Can you take these two in for us? There’s a woman about to give birth and the ambulance can’t get to her, we’ve go to get up there.”

      Herczog gave the tree hugger a stern look as he put him in the back seat of his car, making sure his forehead became acquainted with the door frame on his way in. 

*   *   *

      “Did you hear about that poor woman? She had to give birth to her fist born son on the front seat of her beater, in the middle of a fucking highway. Do you know how much it costs to detail a car these days?” Sal sat across from me, separated by the thick plastic divider in the visiting room at the cop shop.

      “Come on Sal, woman have been giving birth since before hospitals were invented.”

      “Protesting about a little tuition hike; like any of those kids know what a real job is like.”

      “Why don’t you leave it to their ethics teachers?”

      Sal rolled his eyes. “The kid, he looked like a vegetarian. You know how we grow vegetables, don’t you?”

      I put my head in my hands. Of course I know how we grow vegetables. We plant them. 

*   *   *

      “I’m telling you Tullio, Uncle Sal’s lost his goddamned mind. He wants me to whack the grand poo bah of the hippies.” I had stopped at the Pole Truth, Tullio ‘Trifecta’ Mazzucco’s strip club, right after my visit with Uncle Sal at the cop shop.

      “He was probably joking. He knows we don’t whack civilians for stupid reasons.”

      “Sal hasn’t been too stable lately.”

      “He’ll be away for a few days. Maybe he’ll cool down.”

      “I don’t think so. You should have seen his eyes.”

      “So what’s up with this hippy? You know anything about him?”

      “He’s got this thing about tuition. I wouldn’t mind going a few rounds with his girlfriend.”

      “So why don’t you whack him and steal his girlfriend, make you and your Uncle happy.”

      I got up and walked towards the door leading from Tullio’s office to the club.

      “Tony, I was just kidding about whacking the tree hugger. Still, he deserves some kind of punishment for being an inconsiderate moron. Why don’t you and Gino look into it? Maybe you can make Sal’s stay in the lock up worthwhile. 

*   *   *

      I placed my herbal tea next to the girl’s coffee on the table in the school cafeteria, sat down next to her.

      “Sorry about the other day, my Unlce Sal’s a patriot from way back.”

      She lit a cigarette, took a sip from her coffee.

      “I don’t get you vegetarians, healthy food, but every one that I know, besides myself, smokes.”

      “You’re a vegetarian?”

      “Except for one day a week when I indulge in a pork roll sandwich with saltpepperkatchup. My name’s Tony.”

      “Rita,” she said as we shook hands.

      “No offense, but your boyfriend, he’s an idiot. Blocking off the main road leading to the hospital, someone could have died.”

      “It might not have been the brightest move. But Mark’s not an idiot. He’s one of the smartest men I’ve ever met.” She got up.

      “I’d like to see you. You know, outside of the classroom.”

      “I’ve got a boyfriend.”

      “It doesn’t have to be like that.”

      “You’re pretty cute when you lie.” She turned around and walked away.

*   *   *

      “You actually eat this crap?” Gino opened the cover to the granola filled bin, swirled some around with the industrial sized scooper.

      “It gets some getting used to. There’s our guy.”

      Mark was pushing a hand truck filled with produce crates down the aisle of the George Street Co-op. I’d been a member a while ago, but I didn’t have enough time to put in the hours required to keep my membership up, so I had to pay full price whenever I shopped there.

      We walked over to him as he stacked the crates.

      “Mark, right?” I said.

      He turned around. I didn’t think he recognized me.

      “I’m Tony and my associate is Gino. We met the other day at the protest.”

      “You were with the psycho.”

      “My Uncle. Sal ‘the Grazer’ Grazioli.”

      “The Grazer?”

      “He plants things in a field where the cows graze,” Gino said, taking the crate out of Mark’s hands and adding it to the stack.

      “I’m not planning on pressing charges. I wanted a reaction and I got one. I can live with the bruises.”

      “That’s good, for a start.” Gino opened up the top crate, took an organically grown apple out, bit into it.

      “What’s this all about?” Mark said, looking uneasily at Gino.

      “You go to Rutgers, right? Political Science major. I checked. They’ve got great programs in, say, California. They have free tuition for in state residents. Ever think about a transfer?” I said.

      “You move out to Cali, join a commune for a year. Grow some asparagus, hug a few trees, fuck a few chicks with hairy armpits. Then you’ll never have to worry about tuition again once you’re a resident.” Gino said.

      “I still don’t know what you’re driving at.”

      “Expanding your horizons. They seem to be collapsing here in New Brunswick,” I said.

      Gino put the core back in the crate, closed it up.  

*   *   *

      I was half-way through my usual Thursday afternoon Martini, alternating my attention between fish swimming around in the tank behind the bartender, and the ladies in front of the bar at Clyde’s, when I recognized the voice ordering bourbon next to me.

      “I got that,” I said to a relived looking bartender as I pushed a twenty from the pile in front of me. The bartender looked relieved because the last time Vernon Herczog had paid for one of his drinks was during the Reagan administration.

      He grabbed my hand as I was pulling it away, squeezed at a pressure point. “No pinky ring yet, huh. I guess you’re still pretty young to be made.” He let go.

      “I’m only paying for one Vern.”

      “The protester, Mark. He comes from a prominent New Brunswick Family. One of the old Mick Democrats, you know lawyers, professors, doctors, a judge. The landed gentry.”


      “So, your Uncle Sal’s got a big fucking mouth. He’s been in prison enough times that he should know how to keep his guinea mouth filled with pasta rather than shooting it off.”


      “And we’ve got a file on you Tony. Pretty impressive considering you’ve only been legal to drink one of these for a little over a year.” He pointed to the martini.

      “Does your folder say anything about how I dislike drinking with cops?”

      “Say’s your some kind of health food nut. I’d think of other places to buy that granola crap if I was you, because the Co-Op is off limits from now on to you, Gino, and the rest of your grease ball ‘associates’. If I find one hair out of place on Mark’s nappy head, I’m coming after you.”

      “You mean you’re not after me now? Where’s my tax money going?”

      “I’m always after you Tony, but if you go after that kid, it won’t be on the taxpayer’s time.” 

*   *   *

      “I’m in an awkward position Uncle Sal.” I was facing him again, at the cop shop.

      “Awkward, what’s awkward?”

      “The kid, well he’s got some protection. That asshole State Trooper. And Tullio doesn’t want any trouble.”

      “Tullio, you talked to Tullio? You’re in my crew for the time being, remember?” Gino and I usually reported to Tullio directly, but he had us keeping an eye on Sal. He’d been acting a little weird.

      “Yeah but it’s kind of hard running things from jail. I went to him for some advice.”

      “You shouldn’t talk to Tullio. He’s an ungrateful asshole. He’ll steal your ideas and take credit where it’s not due.”

      “What’s your problem with Tullio?”

      “How old are you Tony.”


      “I was thirty-one when I got made, almost ten years older than you are now. I can shave the decade off.”

      “What do you have against this kid anyway? He seems pretty harmless.”

      “The kid’s a drag on the gene pool.”

      “Why don’t you forget about it, work out your frustrations on someone who deserves it. Like that asshole we were supposed to meet the day you got popped. I’ve been trying to get him. He say’s he doesn’t have to talk to us anymore. We haven’t caught up with him yet.”

      “Listen Tony. The way it works is: I give the orders, you follow them. If you can’t, I’ll find someone else who will.” 

*   *   *

      “Rita,” I’d been following her around for a couple of hours at this point. “It’s me Tony, from class.”

      She put her head down, walked faster down the street.

      “Come on Rita, I just want to give you something.”

      She turned around, faced me. “The Italian Sausage? You know I’m a vegetarian. Mark told me about your little visit to the store he works at.”

      “Jesus Rita. It’s not like that. I’m sorry about how my friend and I treated Mark at the store. I’ve got a couple of tickets for Vegas; for the two of you. It’ll do you some good; getting out of town for a while, gambling with some green instead of saving it.”

      “You’re an odd little man.”

      I walked up closer to her, held out the envelope.

      “Isn’t this a little weird Tony? Some guy who only wants to get into my pants handing me plane tickets so I can go away with my boyfriend?”

      “It’s weird as hell, and not the way I usually operate, but I make exceptions.”

      “I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what this is really all about?”

      “I’ll call you at Ceasar’s, fill you in by phone.”

      She turned around and walked away, faster than before, leaving me looking like an idiot in the middle of the sidewalk, holding the envelope in my hand.

*   *   *

      “This isn’t right Gino, and you know it.” We were sitting on George Street, across from the dorm building, at a parking meter.

      “Right, wrong, what’s the fucking difference? We’re told to take this guy to feed the seagulls at the Meadowlands, we take him to his last Giant’s game. I’d think you’d be happy, wanting to jump on his girlfriend and all.”

      “I want to jump on your mom and I don’t want to put a bullet in you, at least not most of the time.” He threw his coffee lid at me.

      “What’re you doing this week?”

      “Just hanging with my girl. Why you asking.”

      “I’ve got a couple a tickets to Vegas. Want to take the flight?”

      Gino placed his coffee up on the dashboard before he could answer. “There he is. What a moron. Red dreadlocks, what is it with these Mick’s? At least he’s wearing a decent jogging suit.”

      He opened the door and followed the kid up the street, me behind him. Mark started to jog, heading under the railroad bridge past the train station. Gino picked up his pace, until I caught up and grabbed him by the arm.

      “It looks a little weird. Two guys in suits running with a jogger.”

      Gino looked around the street, the college students coming from the bars, a couple of homeless people. Still pretty crowded, even at this hour.

      “Leave it to a Mick to actually get some exercise in a jogging suit in the middle of the night.”

*   *   *

      The guy sitting across from Tullio looked out of place. A little too academic. And he looked nervous, like he didn’t deal with someone like Tullio on a day to day basis. He finished up his drink, shook hands with me on the way out of Tullio’s office. I wiped the sweat off my hand with a towel before I held it out to Tullio.

      “Dean Whittier over at Rutgers. I helped him out with some labor problems a few years ago. Now its tuition hikes. Can you say cha-ching?” 

      “Tuition problems?”

      “Had to convince some of the board members it was in their best interest to let the hike ride. I’d think twice if you’re thinking of transferring next year. The guy’s a degenerate gambler and he makes his tuition budget up depending on how well he does with the Super Bowl bets. The dean splits his cut with some finance guy, and kicks a percentage back to us.”

*   *   *

      I checked the messages on my cell phone before I confronted Uncle Sal at the cop shop. He should have been out as soon as the hippy said he wasn’t going to press charges, but I guess beating up tree huggers in the middle of Route 18 was a probation violation.

      I must have been out of range for a while because I had two, the first from Gino, decided he’d take me up on the Vegas tickets, told me to meet him at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick where he had a little job to do for Uncle Sal. The second from Rita, weird because, as far I know, I’d never given her my phone number. She said she wanted to meet me, go over some stuff from class.

      “Muscling in on the Tuition racket, I’ve got to admit it Sal, it’s a great idea.”

      “How’d you find out about that?”


      “That asshole. He stole my idea while I was rotting away in here.”

      “Tullio’s like Japan. He spots something that looks good, tools it up and sends it out at a better price. It’s why he’s in line for the top spot when the old man kicks it. You’re mistake Sal, was in hitting a guy too low on the totem pole. Those tree huggers have no real say in the tuition they’re parents are paying. You should have hit up some of the guys with patches on their elbows.”

      “I guess Tullio’s all over it now.”

      “He might give you a taste if you remind him it was you who got the ball rolling. Now, about the kid.”

      “Forget about it. Still, he deserves something for making that poor woman spill her kid out on Route 18.”

      “I’ll take care of it Sal.”

      “You’d better get a hold of Gino. He left here before I talked to you, said he had a meeting with the kid at the bar he hangs out in.” 

*   *   *

      Gino wasn’t answering his cell phone, so I hurried up to the bar. The bartender said Gino had stepped out with Mark a few minutes before I got there.

      I ran out the door and looked around, trying to think like Gino it this situation. The Court Tavern is in the middle of the city, not too much privacy. Gino would probably take him somewhere else to do the deed. But why would he want to meet me here to pick up his tickets? Then I heard machinery rev up from the pit next to the Court.

      They were building a huge building next to the bar. I’d heard it was going to be the tallest in Middlesex County. They’d torn up the parking lot and dug a hole going down a story or two. Of course Tullio and his organization had a taste of the whole project. Some of Gino’s relatives were in construction. It was nine at night, way past normal construction time.

      I hopped over the fence and climbed down into the construction site, following the sound of the machinery. Gino had the kid down on his knees with his back turned to him. A large cement mixer drowned out the city noises. I tackled Gino to the ground just as he put his gun to the back of Mark’s head.

      I helped Gino to his feet, brushed his suit off. “Sal called the hit off. We’ve got to let him go.”

      “After I had a gun to the back of his head? I don’t think so.”

      The kid had wet his pants. Can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same. “Did anyone put a gun to the back of your head tonight Mark?”

      “Not that I can remember.”

      I untied his hands, spun him around to face us.

      “If your memory gets any better, well, so will ours.” I took the tickets out of my back pocket and was about to hand them to Gino when he sucker-punched the kid, sent a few teeth flying.

      “You know Gino, you can be a real asshole sometimes.” I got down on my hands and knees, looking for teeth.

      “Just a gentle reminder that nothing happened here tonight.” Gino was holding his hand out to me.

      I found another tooth, stood up. “Come on up to the bar, we’ll put them in milk, get you to the emergency room.”

      “The tickets,” Gino said.

      I ignored him, handed the envelope to Mark, along with his teeth. “Why don’t you take these, get out of town with Rita for a while. It’ll do you some good.”

      “Rita and I split up,” he said  through his demolished mouth.

      Gino and I exchanged glances. I grabbed the envelope out of Mark’s hands, stuffed it in my suit jacket, hit the redial button on my cell phone. 

Copyright 2006 by Patrick J. Lambe

Pat Lambe has had short stories in various web sites and magazines, as well as short stories in the Plots with Guns anthology and the upcoming Dublin Noir anthology due out in March from Akashik Books. His short story 'Union Card' was listed as a distinguished mystery story in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2005. He's currently working on a novel and hopes to make enough money to invest in a compound in Montana and a harem or two.