The following morning there was a knock on Zach and Charlie’s door. Zach opened it and found Smitty standing in the hallway. Charlie joined him at the door and noticed Smitty wearing a blank look on his face.
“Morning, Smitty, what’s up?” Zach asked.
“Mr. Graziano would like to see ya both,” Smitty said. He seemed distant and cold.
Zach and Charlie looked alarmed. “Now?” Zach asked.
“Yes, now,” Smitty said. They both thought it was strange that he showed no emotion whatsoever. “C’mon, let’s not keep Mr. Graziano waiting.” He was cold and distant, and acted as though they were total strangers.
Zach and Charlie followed Smitty to the elevator. Smitty pushed the elevator button and stood silently. Zach removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. He nudged Charlie. He gestured with his head and gave him a what’s up with him look. Charlie shrugged his shoulders with a confused expression.
Finally, the elevator bell rang, and the door opened. The elevator operator wore a friendly smile as he held the door for them. Other than saying the word lobby, Smitty didn’t say another word. It was the longest elevator ride they ever had. When the elevator door opened, Zach and Charlie followed Smitty through the lobby. “Smitty, what’s going on? Where we going?” Zach asked.
“This way,” Smitty said. He held the hotel door open for them as they exited the hotel and saw Graziano’s black shiny Packard waiting for them. Smitty brushed past them and opened the rear passenger door. “Gentlemen,” he said, gesturing his hand for them to get in. After they had climbed in, he closed the door behind them.
When the car drove away, Zach watched the hotel disappear into the distance, and wondered if he’d ever see it again. The car turned and drove down an alley behind a row of buildings. From the car window, they watched in silence as homeless winos sifted through garbage cans. They were sordid looking with tattered clothes and long filthy fingernails.
Zach’s mind began to race. He wondered if this unexpected visit was related to the stocks. It had to be, he thought. Had Graziano decided that their time was up and that they were to start working for him that day? Would he really have to work for Graziano until he was old and gray? Would he turn out like the winos sifting through trash cans?
Charlie’s mind raced, as well. He knew his next fight would be that evening. He wondered how long he had before he was too old to fight. He envisioned himself as an old man, broken down with his face full of scar tissue and arthritic hands. He wondered what would happen to him when he was too old to fight. The thought of working for Graziano until he was an old man made him feel ill. His stomach began to twist and turn.
Zach and Charlie looked at each other with worried faces while Smitty sat quietly and looked forward. After a few minutes, he removed a cigarette and lit it. He had disappointed Zach and Charlie. They wondered how he could just sit there without making any eye contact or conversation. Even one of his gruesome stories would satisfy them now. Instead, he continued to sit and smoke his damn cigarette without an explanation of what was going on.
When they arrived at Clyde’s Bar and Grill, Mr. Graziano was reading his newspaper. When Smitty announced that Zach and Charlie had arrived, he placed his cigar in the ashtray, took a sip of his Bloody Mary, and continued to read his paper. Zach and Charlie stood nervously waiting for him to say something. They watched him quietly as he folded his newspaper and set it aside. He lifted his drink, took another sip, and placed it gently back on the table. Then he licked his lips and spoke. “Morning fellas, have a seat. Have you read the morning paper yet?”
“Not yet,” Zach said. “We were gonna, then Smitty showed up.” Charlie sat quietly. He was too nervous to speak. “How’s our stock doing?”
Graziano stared at Zach with piercing eyes and handed him the paper. “See for yourself,” he said handing Zach the newspaper.
Zach took the newspaper and unfolded it. He was so nervous that his hands were trembling. He finally turned to the stock market section and began scanning through it carefully.
“Well?” Charlie asked.
“Give me a second will ya?” Zach said. Suddenly there was a loud pop. It sounded like a gunshot. When he looked up, he saw Smitty holding a bottle of champagne and four glasses. When he turned and looked at Graziano, he was grinning with his cigar between his teeth.
“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.
When Zach examined the stock section and couldn’t believe his eyes. “It’s up! It’s way up!”
“I called our broker,” Graziano said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s true. We are going to make a ton of money from this stock, boys.” He handed each of them a cigar.
Smitty filled the glasses with champagne. “Sorry for the cold shoulder fellas. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. I even swiped your paper so you couldn’t see the stock section. No hard feelings?”
“Smitty, ya son of a gun,” Zach said. “We didn’t know what was going on with ya.”
“Yeah,” Charlie added. “I thought we were gonna meet Big Al.”
“Me too!” Zach said.
“You can still meet Big Al if you want,” Graziano said with a chuckle.
“No, thanks,” Charlie replied.
“Heavens no,” Zach added.
Graziano and Smitty laughed together. Then Zach and Charlie joined them. They were finally able to relax and feel the stress expel from them, knowing the stock was doing well.
“Zach, you’re a genius,” Graziano said raising his glass. “You also have a lot of courage. I want to thank you for talking me into buying the stocks.” Then he turned to Charlie. “Charlie, you’re a good man, and you have a good heart. You never let me down. I know you have your own plans. So let me just say it’s been a great pleasure working with you. If you ever need anything ... well, I hope you know that you can always come to me. Salute!”
“Ya mean we can go?” Charlie asked.
“That was the agreement that Zach and I made,” Graziano said. “Although I wish you’d change your mind and stay, you are free to do as you please.”
“And here’s to good health and friendship,” Smitty added. They all touched glasses and drank their champagne.
“Smitty, I can’t thank ya enough for all the training,” Charlie said. “And Mr. Graziano—”
“It’s Michael, call me Michael,” Graziano said. “You don’t work for me anymore. We’re all friends now.”
“Okay ... Michael,” Charlie continued. “Thank you for everything ya done for us.” It felt strange for Charlie to call Mr. Graziano by his first name, it made him sentimental. He realized he was finally free and became overwhelmed with emotion.
“Okay, drink up and get the hell out before we start slobbering all over each other,” Graziano said with a smile. It was the first time he had ever showed any sign of having a sense of humor. He was in a good mood and rightfully so, their stock was about to make them a lot of money. Zach had opened a new door for Graziano. Now he had another way to make money ... legally.
Ever since the prohibition ended, the price of alcohol had dropped considerably and Graziano’s bootlegging operations ceased to exist. Other illegal mob activities such as racketeering, gambling, drugs and prostitution still existed, but they didn’t bring in the same amount of revenue as the importation and distribution of illegal booze did at its peak. Now, thanks to Zach, Graziano had a new venture, which delighted him.
Zach and Charlie were also delighted because they were free to travel again, and with the money they’d make from their stock also meant that Charlie wouldn’t ever have to fight again.
Happy days are here again.