Rod Bremmer was travelling in the back of a cab just outside downtown Chicago. He puffed on his cigarette despite the no smoking sign and looked out of the window, but didn't seem to register anything.
“Here sir. We arrive here. Twenty five dollar.”
Rod got out of the car in silence.
“That's where I'm going," Rod said pointing to the pizza joint.
"Here. I go. Card back."
“What's wrong with you, don't you know how to fuckin' speak?"
“I learn sir, I learn sir," the small Puerto Rican said and drove off quickly. "Fuckin' immigrants," Bremmer said to himself, "Bad enough I have to fuckin' hire queers. But Puerto Ricans!"
Cassini's was a low-key pizza joint. Wooden tables, open clay oven, nothing fancy. Bremmer took a deep breath and opened the door.
A waiter met him with discretion, took his coat and ushered him to a small table by the window. An unsolicited cappuccino arrived shortly afterwards.
'Papa Cassini' always did this: kept you waiting a little before you saw him, even if he wasn't busy. It was like waiting to see the doctor, you just always did. After about five minutes the waiter caught his eye and flicked his little finger, beckoning him to the back room.
It was dimly lit, save for a small, old-fashioned lamp, which sat over the pizza which Papa Cassinni had in front of him. At first Papa didn't look up as Bremmer came in. "Sit down Mr. Bremmer."
Papa took a slice of pizza and put it in his mouth, eating it slowly and thoughtfully while glancing occasionally up at Bremmer. He was remarkably thin for a man who lived by pasta and pizzas. When he finally offered a genial smile, his eyes proved that Vikings once ruled Sicily.
“Do you know what makes a good Fiorentina, Mr. Bremmer?”
Bremmer shrugged his shoulders, "Not my specialty."
“No, I can see that. You need the right ingredients; you need the best flour to make the best pizza base, you need the best pepperoni, Parma ham, fresh, not frozen, fresh smoked bacon and Italian freshly made sausage ...all in the right proportions and you need them to be cooked properly, in a clay oven. If one of the ingredients isn't right, the whole Fiorentina is not good. It only takes one ingredient to make the whole thing useless. Here, now try this piece here."
“Yeah, it's good."
Now try this piece. You see not so well. This piece has no Parma. You can tell the difference, and so can other people. And when other people can tell the difference, even when one of the pieces is not so good, then you start getting a bad reputation, and when you start getting a bad reputation, then It’s time to fire the chef, or you wreck the whole thing. Just because of a little piece of sub grade pork. Not important on its own but important to the whole.”
Papa Cassini continued to masticate his Florentine:
"I've been in the business for a long time now, and every day I taste the pizzas they're cooking. I've a reputation to keep, and so do all the people who work here. They're working to keep my reputation and I pay them back by looking after them. Things start going wrong when they don't keep my reputation, I send them on their way and I don't look after them anymore.
You have to set a good example you see. You can't have one place setting a bad example to other places: word gets round, then people misbehave. They don't take you as seriously anymore. You understand, I'm sure.
It's very important to preserve your reputation. In business it's all you have. What do you think of that Mr. Bremmer, does that sound like common sense to you?"
Bremmer nodded slowly.
“So I suggest that you go back to your own little business, and check that the ingredients are all the best and that the oven is working, and just as a little encouragement, I have these for you."
Papa pulled out some black and white photographs.
“They show two people having an illicit affair somewhere in Iowa, I don't know where, it doesn't really matter. I know one of them but I've no idea who the woman is."“Now would you like my last piece of Fiorentina before you go?"