TWO KNOCKS. SHORT AND HARD. Louie the Tongue knew what those knocks meant and he was ready. His affairs were in order and the best he could hope for now was a nice turnout at the funeral. But he wasn’t ready for what he saw in the yellow glow of his porch light.
“What the hell is this?,” Louie the Tongue asked. “Who are you?”
“I work for Uncle Sally.”
“The nephew, right? Little Sally?”
“Yes,” he sighed.
“Did I miss something? Is it fucking trainee day?”
Louie leaned out of his front door to look behind the pudgy figure of Sally.
“Did your mother drop you off? Jesus Christ, Little Sally, I don’t even get the respect of a real hit man to knock me off? Madone!”
“C’mon Louie, don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”
“Why don’t you run along and play cops and robbers on somebody else’s porch.”
Little Sally had to think fast. What would a real hit man do in this situation? Sally had never really punched anyone before, so he sort of threw his meaty fist toward Louie’s face, grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him out to the car. Too bad it didn’t shut him up. Now he knew why they called him the Tongue.
“Ow, you punched me in the nose, you fat fuck.”
Sally was ready to kill this guy right here on the sidewalk.
“Wait a minute, is that your car?,” Louie said holding his nose as blood poured onto his shirt. “You gotta be shitting me. A goddamn Chevy Cavalier, what about respect? I did a lot of good things for this family. You can’t haul me away in a Caddy, at least a Lincoln?”
“Get in the car.”
Sally pulled open the door with the intent of shoving Louie in the back seat. Couple of problems. For starters, the Cavalier was a two-door compact, so he was going to have to tilt the seat forward and shove Louie in headfirst. Before he could tilt the seat forward he had to get Old Frank out.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Louie started up again. “You brought Old Frank? You and Old Frank? They couldn’t find a couple of Girl Scouts? What the fuck, Frank, we go way back.”
Back in the day, Old Frank wasn’t Old Frank. He was Big Bang Frank, one of the baddest, most feared men alive. He didn’t kill you with a nice, clean .22 behind the ear. When Frank came calling, you got the Big Bang. Frank did the bad jobs. The rats, the killers, the flippers, the people who needed to be sent out with a certain type of message. The kind of message that told others, don’t even think about doing what this guy did.
A few of his greatest hits included impaling a guy on the tail fin of his Cadillac, doing a variation of cement shoes called the cement hat and, when you hear about some mook getting shoved into a wood chipper, say a little thank you to Big Bang Frank.
Unfortunately, the years had not been kind to Frank. Call it dementia, Alzheimer’s or just karma, Frank lost his marbles. He still had a few moments of clarity, but mostly he just sat in a chair and giggled watching Fox News. For some reason, Hannity cracked him up.
Louie took one more shot. “C’mon, Old Frank, for old times’ sake.”
“Sally brought me some Pringles, but they were the wrong kind,” Old Frank said.
Sally thought, I might shoot both of these guys. Or maybe I’ll shoot myself first.
Too bad he only brought one bullet.
Since birth, Salvatore Cusamano, Jr. had been called Little Sally. He hated that nickname. Every Italian family had a Sally. And if there were two Sallies, one was Big Sally and one was Little Sally. If you were Little Sally, you were destined for a hard life on the elementary school playground. But today was the last time anyone would call him Little Sally. From now on, he would be known as One Bullet.
Yeah, One Bullet, that was a nickname Little Sally could live with. He would be a legend, be feared, be respected. He would set the bar higher than any hit man before or after. He would do the deal with just one bullet. Not only would he kill them with a single shot, he wouldn’t even bother bringing a second bullet.
He’d be like the Man With The Golden Gun. Only Italian. With asthma.
Trouble was, Little Sally didn’t have one bullet or a gun to shoot it with. So he went where he always went when he needed something – Wal-Mart. Which is how he wound up with a camouflage-painted Remington 870 shotgun (that came with a free pair of matching camouflage sweatpants) and a box of Buckhammer slugs. Sally slipped one slug into his pocket, tossed the Remington in the trunk and he was on the road to hit man stardom.
Little Sally got Old Frank out of the front seat, jammed Louie the Tongue in the back, ran down the street to catch Old Frank who had wandered off, shoved Louie back into the car, got Old Frank in, found his Pringles and finally got the hell out of there. If he hung around much longer he might as well join the homeowner’s association.
Louie was quiet. For about 30 seconds.
“Be honest with me Sally, have you ever whacked anybody before?”
“Sure, lots of times.”
“Don’t lie to me, Sally, don’t lie to a dead man.”
“He’s a first timer,” Old Frank said, picking a bad time to be lucid.
“Thanks, Old Frank,” Sally said, a little too late.
“Holy fuck,” screamed the Tongue. “I’m gonna get whacked by a first timer. You got a bullet with training wheels? Oh look, here’s a copy of ‘Assassination for Dummies.’ I can not fucking believe this.”
“Louie,” Sally said, “don’t make me stop this car.”
When they turned into the landfill things got even worse.
“You’re going to dump my body in a landfill? That’s cold. What did I do to deserve this?”
Sally dragged Louie out of the Cavalier’s back seat, grabbed Old Frank before he could get away again and locked him in the car.
“Jesus H. Christ,” Louie shook his head.
Then Sally pulled out the Remington.
“Okay, seriously, do I really deserve to be thrown into a garbage dump after I get shot by a trainee with a, what the hell, is that a camouflage shotgun? I can’t believe that I don’t...”
Sally pulled out the shell and held it up.
“Louie, I got one bullet with your name on it. That’s why they call me – One Bullet.”
“Listen, you don’t want to do this...One Bullet? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It’s only gonna take one bullet to kill you, so that’s all I brought.”
“Really? That was the best idea you had?”
The sound of Sally racking a round into the Remington finally shut the Tongue up. At least it would have if Sally didn’t drop the shell trying to load it.
Sally dropped down on his knees in the darkness and started pawing through the dirt to try to find the shell.
“Take your time, douche bag, I got all night.”
“Hang on a second.”
“It’s next to your left foot, jackass.”
Sally jammed the shell in the gun and racked it home.
“Just make it so my wife can have a nice funeral, okay?”
“As long as you’re dead and quiet, she’ll probably have a really nice day.”
A 12-gauge shotgun firing a slug sounds like an explosion. Inside your skull. Your ears ring, your head pounds and the gun tries to rip itself out of your hands. And when you hit someone with a 12-gauge slug? Suffice to say you won’t need to fire it again. Depending on where you aim.
“You stupid son of a bitch! You fucking missed?”
Sally fired the shotgun from the hip. It was a shotgun, how much aiming was really required? Quite a bit it turns out. Sally caught Louie in the shoulder which, for some reason, made him talk even more.
“C’mon, you dumb bastard, finish me off. Pump the shotgun and finish me off.”
“I only brought the one bullet. I don’t have any more bullets.”
“Oh my God, the idiot didn’t bring any bullets. To a hit. So instead of being killed like a man, I’m just going to bleed to death at the landfill. This is fucking perfect.”
Sally started rummaging around the trunk in the hopes of finding another shotgun shell in there. Wal-Mart bag? No shells. Bowling bag? No ball. No baseball bat. No tire iron. The only thing of any size he could lay his paws on was his mother’s Crock Pot that he was supposed to be bringing back from his Aunt Rose’s house. If anything happened to that Crock Pot his mother would kill him, but Sally was going to have to use it to kill someone else first.
With the first swing he brought the pot straight down on top of Louie’s head producing a loud scream and a groan. The second swing finally shut Louie up. Swings three through 15 finished him off. The Crock Pot wasn’t looking too good, either.
As far as Sally was concerned, he was born and bred to be a ruthless killing machine. That was his calling. Of course, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cusamano, pegged him as more of a tax attorney or a dermatologist. Mrs. Cusamano wasn’t a big fan of her brother’s business. Gambling, booze, drugs. Surrounds himself with thugs. Maybe he had done some really bad things, maybe he hadn’t, she didn’t want to know, but he bought their mother a house so now he’s practically a saint. She named her son after Sally because her mother guilted her into it. Now the kid thinks he’s a hit man. Jesus Christ, how could I be such a pushover, she thought, as she stubbed out her Kent cigarette in the remnants of a slice of Entenmann’s coffee cake.
Little Sally didn’t care much for tax law or dermatology. He was a straight A student (zero absences from kindergarten through twelfth grade, by the way) and could have waltzed into either law school or medical school. Instead, as his mother would tell you, he set out to crush the hopes and dreams she had for her only son.
“How many hit men do you know who have asthma?,” his mother said, trying anything to get her Little Sally to see the light.
“No problem, Ma, I’ll take my inhaler with me.”
“And how will that work, Mr. Smarty Pants Hit Man? Hang on a second, I’m going to kill you as soon as I find my inhaler and catch my breath.”
“Don’t ‘Oh, Ma’ me. Hit men spend all their time in damp, cold places like landfills and marshes digging shallow graves and dragging bodies around late at night. Not exactly an occupation for someone with breathing problems and a sensitivity to rashes. Not to mention the mosquitos.”
She had a point. And she seemed to know an awful lot about what hit men did.
But Little Sally had a goal.
To make sure no one ever called him Little Sally ever again.
So Little Sally ignored his mother and begged Uncle Sally to let him start doing odd jobs. Pick ups, deliveries, get the Cadillac washed, drive a car with New York license plates to North Carolina and drive a very similar car with North Carolina plates back. Uncle Sally had high hopes for Little Sally. He was a big kid, smart, did what he was told. Uncle Sally never had a son, maybe this kid could be a decent substitute.
The trouble was Little Sally wasn’t cut out for the life. He didn’t like to drink, didn’t like to fight, didn’t like to stay up late and, worst of all, Little Sally really liked to bowl. He carried an impressive 180 average, not that anyone noticed. Or cared.
Hit men didn’t bowl.
Even if the family business headquarters was inside a bowling alley.
“For chrissakes, Little Sally,” Uncle Sally would yell at him. “Put down that goddamn bowling ball and do some work.”
Little Sally was prepared to do whatever it took to become a hit man. Including telling anybody and everybody he thought could help him. Little Sally was the least discreet hit man wannabe the world had ever known.
“Need anybody rubbed out today, Uncle Sally?,” he’d ask.
“No one has said that since 1947,” Uncle Sally replied. “Here, go wash the Caddy. And don’t let them spray any of that spring flower air freshener crap in my car. Last time my Cadillac smelled like an old French whore.”
Becoming a hit man was only half the dream. The big picture was that hit men didn’t really work that often, short periods of intense activity and then long stretches of time off. The perfect way to pay the bills to fund his life on the pro bowling tour. While other kids kept Playboy magazines under their mattresses, Little Sally stashed copies of Bowling Digest under his.
“Snap out of it, you idiot,” Uncle Sally said. “Listen. Big Mike tore his trapezio acidophilus muscle or some shit like that. I need you to step in.”
Big Mike was the muscle of the family. A simple man who enjoyed lifting weights, shooting steroids and crushing skulls with baseball bats. He wasn’t a big thinker, but he was a pretty valuable part of the family and had very little interest in letting some schmuck like Little Sally horn in on the action. Of course, Big Mike was a realist, if he didn’t make it look like he was playing nice with the boss’ nephew he might find himself welded into a 55-gallon drum. Still, that didn’t mean he had to make things easy.
But that’s exactly what he did.
Big Mike was in the gym, as usual, wearing one of those thick, leather weightlifting belts and carrying a gallon milk jug filled with steroid-charged water. He grunted with every lift and threw down the weight bar with a flourish. And nobody complained. The last guy who did wound up with a broken sternum and a gallon of water poured over his head. Big Mike wasn’t exactly Mr. Personality, but he did have a way with people.
Trying to max out for a new personal best, Big Mike was dead lifting enough weight to crush a Hyundai when he heard something pop in his shoulder. To avoid further injury he opened his hands and let the weight bar drop. Right on his pinkie toe. As he sank to the floor he thought, that little bastard Sally is going to get my hit. He looked down to see his Nike filling up with blood and laughed knowing that the boss would make him take Old Frank along since it was Little Sally’s first hit. He almost felt sorry for him.
“Okay,” Uncle Sally said, “with Big Mike hurt, you and Old Frank need to take care of a little problem I have.”
Little Sally sighed to himself. Or he thought it was to himself.
“You got a fucking problem with Old Frank? Listen, someday you’re gonna be old and senile and not remember if you put your prick back in your pants after you’ve taken a leak.”
Old Frank was sitting about three feet away during all this, laughing to himself. What he was laughing at no one was really sure.
“Either you take Old Frank or I freelance this out.”
“No, no. I love Old Frank, it’ll be great. Right Old Frank?”
“Pringles!,” came the reply.
Even though Sally beat Louie to death with a small kitchen appliance, wrapped up his body and threw it in a pit all by himself, he knew one thing for sure. His One Bullet story was going to stick. No one was going to know what really happened, so he could tell it any way he wanted. Old Frank doesn’t even know if he’s wearing pants, let alone what happened at the landfill.
Next day at the bowling alley, Sally was ready to tell the tale.
“How’d it go?,” Uncle Sally asked.
“Louie nearly talked me to death.”
“You let Louie talk?,” said Big Mike, wearing an arm sling and a boot guarding his rebuilt pinkie toe. “You’re such a pussy.”
“I’ll fucking kill you,” Mike hissed.
“Take it easy, boys,” Uncle Sally said.
Mike limped out of the room, but managed to lean over to Sally and whispered, “I mean, I’ll fucking kill you as soon as I get the chance.”
“How’d it go, Old Frank? How’d the boy do?,” said Uncle Sally.
“He shot him and missed. Then no more bullets. So he beats the guy to death with a fucking Crock-Pot. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Old Frank recalled.
“Old Frank, you’re too funny,” Sally laughed nervously. “I shot him with one bullet. One. Bullet. In fact, I only brought...one...bullet.”
“And the Pringles,” said Uncle Frank.
“Looks like you’re a real tough guy now,” Uncle Sally said.
The heavens opened. This was the moment Little Sally had been waiting for his whole life. The head of a major crime family had given him his first hit job and was about to bestow upon him the nickname that would cement his reputation as a tough guy and launch his career.
“Nice going, Crock Pot.”