August 21. The Saturday before I began my final year of school, but more importantly the day of my induction.
I didn’t know it at the time as I walked into that smoky, gentleman’s club located in the badlands of Demora, a city that lived an eternal night – A place always crowded with people desiring a bit of unhindered fun and luck at the casinos. Fools who did as they pleased, believing their dissipations could be left at the county line, but it’s not that simple. Once evil is done, it’s done. You can’t take it back and you can’t pretend it never happened. Decisions and actions make people who they are and that’s the real truth –my truth.
It wasn’t unusual to find me, a teenaged boy, roaming around the house of demons after midnight. Listening to the chatter. The laughter. The beer mugs clinking. Cigar rings floating. Rock ballads playing so loud my heart took on its rhythm.
I roamed freely. The waitresses served me a beer, no questions because everyone knew this kid. I was Adrian Gianetti’s son. An exact, younger replica of the city’s most feared man. I could do whatever I wanted. Go anywhere I wanted ... I was going to be just like my old man ... I’d heard it daily. And until that night, that remark had made me proud.
I will never forget, although I’d spend a lifetime trying. I’ll always hear that love song, saying ‘hey now, hey now’. I’ll always see the tired dancers, still in their topless uniforms, sitting at the bar talking and rubbing their feet. I’ll always see the remnants of a rowdy bachelor party – empty mugs on the table, plates, and baskets with chunks of chewed entrees and waded up napkins. Bunches of balloons anchored to random objects – except that one – the one that broke free and floated upward at the exact moment...
There was no warning. Beginning with a man in a tacky, green plaid suit named Double-Shot Verino, a regular visitor.
He waved me over. I hid a moan, like every other time.
“Look at this, kid!” He snatched my hand with a hearty shake and slapped my back.
The guy’s real name wasn’t even Double-Shot. It was a nick-name. Later on, I’d find out he’d earned that name because of the way he killed his victims. The guy was an ace shot – dead on accurate – it only took him one try to kill but he liked to show off by firing a second bullet through the same hole.
His close acquaintances called him Dub. I say acquaintances because I don’t think I knew a single person who really liked the guy. He thought the shortened version was a term of endearment – they thought he was a loud-mouthed buffoon. Every time he walked out of the room, someone would always say, “If he wasn’t good at getting the job done ...” – Fill in the rest any way you like – I’m sure someone had said it.
“How are you, sir?” Respect. No matter how much I disliked the guy, I had to pretend he was my best friend, return the handshake and smile.
Double-Shot grinned with satisfaction and turned to the three men standing with him. Billy Rose, Leo De’Luca, and Bruiser Baits. All on my father’s payroll and that seemed a bit strange. They seemed to have been with him all night – the same guys who’d always had a quick excuse to ditch him in the past.
“Sir? Will you listen to this kid? Call me Dub. You rotten little jackass.” That’s what he called people he liked. “Damn, you’re taller than me! Whatcha been up to?”
“You know. Same old stuff. Different day.”
“Will you listen to that? That’s a grown-ass answer right there! Give me a hug!” Roughly, the man pulled me close. He reeked of stale cigars, rum, and cheap women and I hoped the stench didn’t rub off.
I kept my eyes on the nearby men, trying to read the punch line in their eyes. Billy Rose, a short and skeleton thin man, gazed down at his glass with a ‘What an idiot’ smirk.
“Hey, you,” Double-Shot ordered the bartender. “Give me a grown-up drink for my grown-up adopted son here.”
Leo De’Luca, our lawyer – who didn’t look the part at all with his bodybuilder frame, exchanged raised eyebrows with Bruiser Baits, a stout man who wore a large purplish birthmark across his left eye with pride.
Double-shot claimed me as his kid whenever Adrian wasn’t around, but he’d never done it in front of the hired guys before and he wouldn’t dare say those words around my true father. Even in jest. Adrian wouldn’t think it was funny. Hell, I didn’t think it was funny. There wasn’t a solitary skill I wished to learn from the old prick.
“Whatcha stalling for?” Double-Shot’s lighthearted tone grew cold quickly. “Give the boy a drink!” The bartender was new and hesitated. “He’s a freakin’ Gianetti!”
Yeah, that’s all it took to put a fire under anyone. No one would deny me anything. I could have it all. Beer, liquor, drugs. Whatever I wanted. People assumed I was just as heartless and dangerous as my father. It was like being the heir to a throne. My family and our friends weren’t like the rest of the population. I learned that at a young age. Everyone knew who I was. Everyone wanted to be my friend and would do my bidding. All I had to do was say it and it was done rather I wanted a soda or an A on a test. And we wanted when we wanted. We could park in the middle of the street and without worrying about a tow. We could knock on any door and throw a party in some stranger’s home and no one would call the cops. We could snatch any girl from the street and she would gladly be our evening date. And to a kid, all of that was pretty cool – until I figured out the why.
All my life, I watched my father walk into stores and people handed him money. Our family-owned a little share of every business. Nothing or nobody survived without us. Back then, I didn’t realize our business was extortion.
Double-Shot Verino held the lowest rank in the organization. A soldier – the ones that got their hands dirty and the job didn’t come with a lot of glory so he borrowed, throwing our name around a little too often.
“Salute! – Adrian!” Smiling broadly, glass half raised, Double-Shot greeted the six-foot-five, broad-shouldered man who laid a hand on my shoulder. “Where have you been hiding?”
My father ignored and jutted his chin at the bartender. That’s all he had to do to order the usual for himself and the woman he was with.
“Never mind. Dub can toast himself – to me!” The drunk turned up a recently filled mug. “So how much longer before you’re done with this one, Adrian?”
I took a look at the voluptuous blonde settling on a bar stool. Her nails were perfect. Her hair was perfect. Like she just stepped out of the salon. Probably had and the sequined evening gown looked new – I really didn’t care for her. She was just the latest in a long parade of mistresses my father entertained. A gold digger just like the rest. The man usually bored easily, but this one had been hanging on his arm a little too long.
“Don’t go busting my balls, Dub,” Adrian growled
“Nah, I was just interested that’s all. You know? You never keep em’ long and they always move on with one of your buddies after you throw them to the curb. I just want to put my name in the hat early. You know what I mean?” He chuckled.
My father’s short dating record was something of a joke and Adrian laughed. For a short moment. Then – his steel-blue eyes turned black. Wide, nearly popping from his head. Staring without a blink. His jaw held in a firm pierce.
I never saw the series of movements that took Double-Shot Verino from the stool he sat upon to lying flat on his back on the crimson carpet. My father sat on top of him. Beating him. One powerful punch after another to his face. Double-Shot vomited blood. His nose was broken. His cheeks shattered. His skin hung loosely off his face, flopping with continued blunt fists.
The room cleared quickly. People rushed the exits as if there were a fire. No one stuck around when a fight broke out because there was no way to know how it would turn out. No one wanted to be a witness. Henchman interrogations and threats ... police harassment. Forget it. It wasn’t worth it.
And the same song played on, seemingly singing, ‘Don’t dream it’s over,’ at an eerie half speed.
My father’s friends tried to pull him back, but he was too far gone. Angrier than I had ever seen him. He yelled obscenities. Broke from their grasp, pulled out a gold-plated pistol, stuck it in Double-Shot’s mouth and pulled the trigger.
“Lock the door!” Bruiser Baits yelled at me.
I ran to obey. Then I just stood there. Frozen. My heart beating fast and I was scared. Real scared.
“Geeze, Dad.” I stared at the carnage that had once been a man. I was stuck with no options. The cops would expect me to testify – against my own father. I waited for sirens to break the silence … the silence remained. Sound seemingly as dead as Double-Shot.
Everyone’s eyes were on my father. No one spoke. Were they waiting for an explanation?
“Sean, go and grab one of those packages from the back room.” My father ended the quiet. Instantly calm. The anger left the moment Double-Shot Verino stopped breathing. “Bottom shelf on the right.”
Inside the back room, away from their eyes, I doubled over, grabbed my knees and exhaled. Heaving out emotions and holding back panic that teetered on the edge, threatening to expose an inner weakness. I couldn’t fathom – that couldn’t have – that didn’t just – what the fuck!
I swallowed a hard lump and pushed forward. Smacking and sliding my hands along the shelves until I found the package. It had weight and the wrapper reminded me of a trash bag. I stopped once more at the door, hiding horror behind what I hoped was a deadpanned expression before returning.
Leo De’Luca took the package from me and ripped off the plastic. Leo never showed any emotion on his pock scared face. The man could have earned many names from his looks alone, but no one ever dared. He laid a plain black shower curtain-like material beside Double-Shot with gloved hands.
“Put these on, kid.” Billy Rose placed cold leather in my palms.
My hands shook as I tried to pull on a pair of black leather gloves. My stomach churned as they directed me to pick up the feet of the corpse. Double-Shot’s lifeless eyes wide, staring, blaming. His bloody mouth open, displaying the hole in the back of his skull. I couldn’t get him onto the plastic fast enough. I slid him and dropped him, then stepped back as fast as I could.
“Don’t you dare vomit!” My father snapped.
I dropped eyes to my feet and thought about the color of the carpet – suddenly seeing the red wasn’t just red as I’d always thought – it was deeper, darker. The same color as the blood soaking into its threads.
“What are we going to do with him?” Billy Rose pulled on his last glove as he followed Leo, Bruiser, the wrapped dead man, and myself out the back door. “You want us to dump him in the streets like the last one? Call the cops in the morning?”
‘The last one?’
“Get your car, son. Bring it to the alley.”
‘My car? They were going to use my car to dispose of the guy?’
Billy Rose grabbed the guys feet from my hands and I obeyed. Moving as quickly as I could and still appear casual. Something told me that how I crossed that parking lot was important. Someone might be watching. Someone probably was watching and I know I appeared as paranoid as I was looking both ways multiple times before making that turn into the alleyway – Damn, I just knew a cop would pull me out of school Monday morning.
The body dropped with a thud in the trunk before I had brought my car to a complete stop. I turned off the engine. Opened my door slowly and stood twiddling keys in my hands.
“Take him to the country. Make him part of some farmer’s fertilizer. No one’s going to be looking for that son-of-a-bitch.” My father shut the trunk. Then his eyes fell on me. “Drive.”
There was no warmth. Nothing apologetic in his eyes – no sign that he feared that my view of him had changed.
The country was a three-hour drive from Demora. Might as well been days for me, thinking about that bloody body in the trunk of my birthday present. The month before I’d thought that old Camaro was the prettiest thing I’d ever laid eyes on. I didn’t think I’d ever see it that way again. Kinda like that finding out your sweet crush is screwing the whole football team – that kind of scenario, but Bruiser and Billy chatted about girls. About casinos, movies, and stopping by some old diner on the way back. Like it was just a normal road trip. They chatted while we dug the hole on the border of someone’s farm. They were in good spirits when we dropped Double-Shot Varino and covered him with dirt and marked the grave with a thick fallen tree trunk.
“Let’s get that breakfast.” All I remember was that damn rose Billy always wore in his lapel and how it and his entire wardrobe wore no signs of the dirty task. Not so much as a bead of perspiration on his brow.
The sun was bright in the morning sky by the time I returned home. I sat on the edge of the bed. Staring at nothing. Plagued with memories of my childhood. Seeing them in a new light. Nothing was the same. Everything was tainted.
As far back as I could remember, I wanted to be a Gianetti. I was proud of my family. We were gangsters. We were the mob. And it was so cool. It was a job. A career. The easiest work available.
My father’s hired men had been around my entire. They weren’t blood but they were family just the same. I called some of them Uncle. They had fun. They had parties. They had women and money. And they had each other’s back.
They came to my football games. Cheered for me. They were there for me, even when my father couldn’t be. One of them stood waiting on the curb to drive me home from school. They helped me with homework. Did it for me every single day. No excuses. No exceptions.
My childhood had its ups and downs. My father wasn’t always doting. He was extremely strict, but I’d turned out okay, so he must know what he was doing ... right?
It was a moment in my past I rarely visited. One that popped into my mind whenever my conscience and heart argued. It had been a long time since I remembered that pivotal moment – a moment I wished I could go back and change – the exact moment when I let the evil hijack my life.
If I had only done the right thing – if I’d called the cops and forsaken the family – maybe I wouldn’t have lost the woman I loved – again.