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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
* * *
“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
“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
“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,
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
“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
“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
* * *
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,
“Except for one day a
week when I indulge in a pork roll sandwich with saltpepperkatchup. My
“Rita,” she said as we
“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
“It doesn’t have to be
“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
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
“My Uncle. Sal ‘the
“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
“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.”
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
* * *
“I’m in an awkward
position Uncle Sal.” I was facing him again, at the cop shop.
“The kid, well he’s
got some protection. That asshole State Trooper. And Tullio doesn’t want
“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
“How old are you
“I was thirty-one when
I got made, almost ten years older than you are now. I can shave the
“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,
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
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
“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
* * *
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?”
“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
“Muscling in on the
Tuition racket, I’ve got to admit it Sal, it’s a great idea.”
“How’d you find out
“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
“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
“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
“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
I helped Gino to his
feet, brushed his suit off. “Sal called the hit off. We’ve got to let
“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
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
“The tickets,” Gino
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.
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.