Archive | January, 2013

PASTAWAY

23 Jan

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The machine gun barrel smoked, the restaurant echoed gunfire. It’d been over in a muzzle-flash, a full drum of thirty rounds pumped through the weapon in the general direction of the dead men who even now dripped scarlet on freshly laundered table cloths. Broken crystal reflected subdued lighting and a half shattered Champagne bottle leaked its last onto the polished wooden floor. A great neighborhood eatery, famous for its scaloppini and pasta, that after tonight  would be known for more than just its culinary excellence. The boss had warned them. There were no second chances. Capiche?

After the first few shots his killer instinct instinct kicked in – the screams and smoke culminating in a tableau of mayhem and death. He’d squeezed the trigger until the gun clicked – simple enough, nothing new. One clip had been sufficient, although ever the professional, he’d a spare magazine in his coat just in case. Lifting the muzzle Joey stared at the destruction he’d wrought.

He shouldered the weapon, drew his pistol and walked towards the shattered table. “No mistakes,” the boss had told him. “Dead men speak no tales.” Short and sharp the pistol cracked, a shot to the head of each of the dead men – a third eye blooming on their foreheads as the bullets found their mark. No screams this time, no pleas for mercy, just the report of the gun and the silence of the recently liquidated.

In this town you didn’t mess with the boss. There was no forgiveness. Sure you could buy a little time, but a little was never enough. The boss was right, “You have to command respect. No bastardo give you nothing.”

The instructions for the hit had been in his pigeon-hole in the hotel lobby, the names and photographs of the soon to be exterminated. Nothing out of the ordinary, no major planning necessary, and he’d enjoyed his bagel and coffee at Lew’s on 35th street while casually contemplating the job. It was straight forward. The nearly deceased would be at Toni Fratennilies restaurant on 69th, same way they always was on a Thursday night, enjoying the food and dividing up territory or whatever it was bosses did.

What did he know? He was small time, a pawn in very large game of chess, where if you didn’t stay one step ahead you’d wind up dead as these fishes laid across the table.

He kicked the chair of one of the unfortunates and sat down; a corpse slumped to the ground. What a fucking mess, there was pasta and spaghetti sauce all over the place but miraculously some of the table had survived. His prowess with the Thompson was legendary. Holding the gun at waist height he’d simply scythed his way through the diners, his bullets cutting them down at chest height. It was the crashing bodies and their urgent attempts to avoid the unavoidable – hands reaching for weapons, smashing through piled plates, toppling wine glasses – that had caused the table top devastation.

Holstering his pistol he removed his black leather gloves. He’d time before the cops showed up – the amount of money donated to police headquarters meant there was always time. Half the frigging city was on the boss’s payroll. With cash, girls and booze you could buy anybodyand that’s just what he’d done. 

A pasta-splashed bottle miraculously still stood in the middle of the table, corked and as fresh as the day it had left Naples. Chianti that had been pressed and bottled in Italian sunshine, a land he still remembered from his youth. He reached for it and poured wine into a glass. He sniffed, then quaffed.

Darn good stuff. Apperritifo wine is what the fellas would call it. Better than nothing, that’s for sure.

He swirled the dark liquid, coated the walls of the glass, watched the tannins skin its crystal surface.

Not bad, he thought, and poured himself another.

He looked around greedily, there was still salvageable food on the table, not quite the banquet there’d been before but enough to satisfy. He moved one of his victim’s hands from a silver tureen, wiped blood from a spoon, and scooped pasta onto a plate.

Bellissimo.

He could smell the olive oil, the spaghetti falling apart in individual strands across the plate. Al dente, perfect – just the way he liked it. He’d heard about Toni’s before the contract. When this mess had blown over and they’d cleaned the place up he’d come again, maybe bring the old lady or one of the dancers from the cabaret – the red head perhaps?

Picking through the detritus he selected what appeared to be veal scaloppini. A flower from a vase that had obviously been on the table before being blown to smithereens sat in the middle of the dish giving it a festive look. He removed the greenery and poured the meat and sauce over the pasta. Fantastic smells emanated from his plate; basil, garlic, oregano – thick edible aromas that indused instant salivation.

He was back in his mother’s kitchen on Sicily, the lady standing before her range, hour after hour, creating plate sized pieces of heaven for her husband and eight children and whoever else might appear at the table. Memorable times when the house had been filled with laughter and music, happy days when the term family hadn’t referred to the outfit he was with, but rather the company he loved. He spooned food into his mouth and was immediately transferred to Tuscan hills and orange groves, warm Italian sunshine and mountain fresh air – a taste of the old country, the essence of Italia. He could hear them all – see their smiling faces, the checkered table cloth, the wisp of curtain in the afternoon breeze. Looking around the table at his brothers and sisters he felt a belonging, a oneness, a sense of famiglia. Village life and home town remembrance washed across his tongue. The voice of loved ones ringing in his ears, young girls in summer dresses, wrinkled older couples, who’d lived and laughed forever, dancing slowly on terracotta tile.

Delizioso

Finishing his bite, and finding himself back in a restaurant populated by death, his thoughts quickly returned to reality. He could hear police sirens somewhere in the distance, it was time to go. Grabbing his gun and pocketing his gloves he moved swiftly through the restaurant, through the kitchen, and into the back alley where a car was waiting for him. Splashing through puddles, his shoes clicking on cobbles, he opened the door and sank into the leather passenger seat.

The driver smiled nervously, hands clutching the wheel, “How did it go?”

Joey shrugged.

A look of panic crossed the driver’s face and he pointed at Joey’s shoulder. “You get hit? You ok?”

Joey looked at the driver and then his shirt – redness oozed through white cotton.

Joey smiled, swiped his finger through the wound and stuck his finger in his mouth. “Spaghetti sauce! Damn good as well.”

“Yeah I heard about that place,” said the driver putting his fingers to his lips and making a kissing sound. “Besta pasta on the east side.”

Joey looked up at the sign hanging above the door of the restaurant.

Fratennilies – he’d be back.

The car drove off into the night.

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FAST

17 Jan

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Bill ran.

Fear drove him forward, blood thundered in his ears, long stalks swept past his body, cutting and scratching he floundered through a sea of grass. Hot breath seared his throat, pulse raced, sweat oozed, heart pounding in his chest, throbbing at his temple. He’d never run before, he’d always stood his ground, defended his corner, but not today – today he was fleeing for his life. Tired legs fought through thick mud, wet earth sucked at aching limbs, pulled at his boots. The sky, the earth, the green, the cacophony of lung burning terror – Bill ran.

Then he stopped.

A cool breeze blew through the meadow, the welcome relief of rain as it fell on his face and shoulders. Standing in fading light he tilted his head, focused every sinew, every synapse – attempting to capture each scintilla of sound.

“Perhaps he’d escaped? They’d probably lost him – lost his scent?”

Bill heard the dogs.

Faint at first, but with a terrible bone-chilling nearness that froze him to the core. Exhausted, he couldn’t go any further, had to get away. Ignoring the physical agony of marrow-sapping fatigue he pushed on, desperate to stay ahead of his pursuers.

Bill ran.

Stumbling through the last of the grass he reached the edge of the field, caught the fence wire with his boot and fell headlong into a water filled ditch – foul smelling mud coated his body. Wiping his hands across his face he cleared his eyes then his mind. The terror of the hunt had sharpened his senses. Bill was acutely aware of the danger he faced.

The dogs were close. He could hear them barking, hear the helicopter, the shouts and curses of their handlers as they fought to control excited charges. The aircraft was directly overhead the whirr of its rotors crashed above him as he cowered in the shadows, blades shaking the ground, searchlights piercing the darkness. Without hesitation he ducked beneath the primordial slime of the ditch. Caked in filth he pushed himself along its length.

Just in time.

Suddenly the glade was filled with officious urgency – the eagerness of his pursuers palpable. Peering between unkempt reeds he saw the officers, their slung weapons gleaming – reflections of tin badges in flash-lit darkness. The hounds, eyes obsidian bright with bared fangs and dripping saliva barked up a storm. With heart palpitating, his breath came hot and fetid, the stench of the ditch water all pervading. Perfect stillness was his only chance of escape. Bathed in the muck of the ditch he was undetectable, only his imagination betrayed his presence in the blackness of the weeds.

Radios squawked.

Dogs foraged restlessly through bankside bushes. The scent was gone, the trail cold, but their prey was nearby they could taste it, feel it, wanted it so badly. Adrenaline filled and ready for action, armed black-clad officers stood eager and ready for confrontation – the highlight of otherwise mundane careers, an experience that could be related time and again over beer and barbeque.

“Where was the murdering bastard? He was here, they knew it.”

Although his would be captors were blind to his whereabouts there appeared to be no escape. They were systematic bastards, Bill knew that from past experience, and it wouldn’t take them long before someone organized a search party to gridline the area to flush him out. Like a badger caught in its holt he could sense his pursuers shoveling through the thin layer of dirt that stood between him and death. Any second now electric light would illuminate his hiding place and the slashing teeth of dogs would tear him to pieces.

It was time for action – an attempt to escape injustice and execution, a last desperate bid for freedom. He felt in his pocket for the make shift blade. The shank that’d  seemed adequate back at the prison now utterly puny in his hand. He’d nothing else. There was no going back – he wasn’t going back.

Radios buzzed, a shout went up, the police began to move away.

“He’s over here. They’ve picked up his tracks.” The helicopter faded into the distance, dogs and officers disappeared into the night.

Waiting for them to go Bill pulled himself from the mud, a dripping, stinking specter – half human, half beast. Spitting ditch water he skulked amongst the bushes. In the distance the sounds of the search went on, the enthusiasm for his capture unrelenting.

Bill got to his feet, took one last look in the direction of flashing torches.

Bill ran.

Rex mortuus est…

15 Jan

 

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Max looked out of his office window and down into the courtyard where a small but eager crowd was starting to gather. Just as he’d promised his students it was a brilliant, sunny day – a perfect day for graduation. Good old Nevada, she’d never failed him. There were so many advantages to living in the desert, but surely the cascade of continuous sunshine was the ultimate. There was something about blue cloudless skies and UV-rays beating down on one’s skin that induced a zest for life. Theirs was a state populated by positive can-do attitudes.

There was no such thing as a Nevadan as they’d been eradicated by the fledgling U.S. government of the previous century and everybody there was from somewhere else. Runaways and escapees; bad weather jail-breakers, who could no longer endure the perpetual cold and ice-scraping numbness – the quotidian excavation of snow-covered front porches. Nevadans were all born-again humans. Thankful for their release and blessed with a second start they were not unlike the thousands who flocked to worship plaster saints on Sundays and holy days. Rather than saving their devotions for the weekend, sun worshippers went down on their knees every day to be anointed with copious amounts of vitamin D. Not for them the devotional buffet of dry crackers and cheap red wine but a smorgasbord of glorious rays that transformed their grey lives into terrestrial paradises – a solar miracle. What did the Christians think that disc was behind the head of their Christ in all those Icons, a halo? Max smiled, he thought not.

They’d started the course with a class of forty two and were graduating a class of twenty one. The usual attrition one would expect from such a high seat of learning. There was nothing wrong in reaching for the stars, PER ADUA AD ASTRA after all, but one had to realize one had to learn to flap ones wings first before performing aerial acrobatics. A Greek tragedy of epic proportion, the only consolation being  the none refunability of the student’s fees.

A proud moment all the same and he never failed to recognize the gravitas of the occasion. Hadn’t he himself dared to be different, hadn’t he stood where the recently qualified would shortly be decorated with faux parchment degrees? He looked at his own coffee stained accolade hanging behind cracked glass above his desk. Class of ’87. The student had become the teacher, left the monastery and returned to cast pebbles for future candidates. His journey had been long and arduous and yet he’d attained the dizzying heights of his profession, performed for kings and queens, demonstrated his art for the rich and famous, connected with the well-connected, a legend in his own lifetime. His success had bought him fame and fortune and after accumulating moderate wealth and a couple of ex-wives on the way, he wanted to give back, share the secrets of his success with those willing to pay the college fees plus administration costs. It was necessary to fill the void, after all what would the world be if there was no one to take over the roles in society left by expiring peers? No, like surf hitting a beach, there had to be continuity. Time marched on but the legend had to survive. When the first wave left the landing craft to be mown down by unappreciative audiences there had to be  reinforcements to fill the gap -men to carry the standard, to tell the stories, to spread the word.

Happy day indeed!

Opening up his closet he reached for his ceremonial garb, the clothing that would distinguish him as faculty, as one of the teachers who’d groomed and honed those proud individuals who even now milled around amongst the crowd below. Obvious in their graduation costumes he could see them chatting excitedly to friend s and relatives, striking poses for cameras and even singing for the gathered crowds who, judging by the applause, were lapping it up.The silver gown, black leather boots and dark sunglasses set him aside from the others. He was the spitting image, or at least had been, until FatherTime had taken his requisite fee. Now, although still jet-black, his thinning hair reflected the later years rather than the younger. Dressed to impress, and with a final groin thrust to the mirror, he adjusted his jacket, ran his fingers through his hair and made for the podium. It was stage time, the green light was blinking and although self-reflection was not out of place on such a momentous occasion, it was time to congratulate his students. They’d paid the price both physically and financially and with their generous proceeds Max had managed to furnish himself a beautiful up-town home. Thanks where thanks were due. It was time to recognize fellow artists – men whom he was proud to call colleagues and fellow alumni.

*

Max stood on the podium, the audience before him. Tapping the microphone to insure he could be heard above Las Vegas rush-hour traffic, he launched into his practiced speech.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he screamed, “welcome to our fifth graduation ceremony here at the Elvis Aron Presley College for Professional Impersonators.”

The crowd went wild. Somebody hit play on the boom box and the Legend joined the invited.

“I said one for the money, two for the show,” warbled The King over cracked speakers.

Behind him the graduates all dressed in jump suits and star spangled cloaks broke into their carefully rehearsed routine. Every one, although not exactly personifying the great man, resembled the King in their own unique fashion. Max couldn’t help but smile his bleached, capped teeth dazzled as he grinned broadly at his successful students. The latest and greatest Elvis impersonators had entered the building of performance art. His legend and the King’s would live forever.

Waiting for the song to finish and the hub-bub to die down, Max took the microphone and looked at his graduates with sincerity and watery eyes.

“Thank you. Thank you very much and I do mean that most sincerely.” Despite his Moroccan heritage Max was ever the southern Gentleman.