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PROLOGUE She could never tell when the nightmare called Bennett street began. It seemed to always be there, hovering, creeping like a cloud over the sun, until one day all the light had been hidden and there was only darkness. Later, much later, after she had moved out of that street forever, Gina thought she saw him walking towards her from a nearby park. She could have sworn it was him, his blonde hair flying in the wind. She caught her breath, as she always did whenever she saw him. She started to run towards him, but then he faded and disappeared. She stopped and slowly, painfully began to cry. She would dream of him, strange symbolic dreams, twisting and turning with nuances that she could not decipher. He would be on the street corner once again, waving to her, then he would turn his back. Or he would be dressed as a police officer.
Her dreams always took place in the old neighborhood, dark, menacing, almost Gothic. Except for him. He would shine in the midst of all the darkness and old buildings and dirty sidewalks. He would glow even under the cloudy sky which threatened to engulf everyone in its shadowy gloom.
His name was Tommy. Tommy Joseph Marino, blonde blue eyed son of Dominic Marino, of the Marino crime family. He looked like a rock star, with his long blonde hair and leather jackets. Tommy stood on the corner on a bright April morning, waiting for a sign from Dad, then he would go up the street to a prll of cooking coming from homes - people looking out their windows, calling to each other - kids running around. Everything so alive and vital and colorful. It somehow made Tommy feel more alive too, a part of it all. But there was another, more important reason that he liked to stand on the corner. Gina. Dark haired voluptuous Gina. Not perfect, not a 10 , as the guys would say, but so what? Tommy never cared about that. All he knew was he liked this girl. He liked her looks, he liked her eyes. Once she gave him a dazzling smile. He felt the force of it, the sweet, achingly fierce affection behind it, and he almost staggered backwards. She had never smiled at him like that before. What gives? He remembered thinking, bewildered, yet determined to figure out the mysteries of this woman. Tommy didn t know any women except his mom and his uncle s girlfriend tough talking, passionate, beautifully raw and emotional women. They sometimes overwhelmed him with their female strength and machisma. Gina she was different. Awkward and vulnerable in a way that girls in the neighborhood could never be - or at least never showed him. Then he saw her. Saw that slow, rambling walk, her hips moving ever so slightly - she never exaggerated this like some girls would. She stared at the ground, then picked her head up, and their eyes met for a brief moment. Smile. Please. Say hi. Gina, I m here. See me? Look at me. His lips curled up in a tentative smile. His eyebrows raised hopefully. She slowly responded. A flicker moved over her lips, spreading through her face and up to her eyes - a gentle softening and warming of her features. His smile widened into a grin. So did hers. quickly answered Hi . Gina walked by. These were the moments he lived for. She said shyly Hi . He
Gina never considered herself pretty.
Her shiny black hair fell in soft
fine waves against her face. Her when she had fallen down a flight been gangly, but since she turned rapidity - now she was 145, a lot
straight nose had a tiny bump on it from of stairs as a child. Gina had always 17 she had gained weight with alarming for her 5 3 frame.
Her lips were small and childlike, a tiny red rosebud against the pale backdrop of her skin. Men looked at her with interest her dramatic and colorful makeup exaggerated her big brown eyes, her pale complexion and delicate lips. They would stare with a gleam in their eye. Gina would feel proud and ashamed all at once. She had their attention, now what? her mother s clothes. She felt like an imposter, a child in
She had never been attracted to anyone - until now. Until Tommy. But she buried her feelings deep inside, so they could never cause her any problems or pain. As a child, Gina believed in fairy tales, aliens and angels. She would blurt out things like I love everybody in the whole world today! She d cry over a wounded butterfly with a torn wing and she d carry it home and try to feed it flower juice. She d save a moth from drowning, or a fuzzy orange and black caterpillar from being squashed by a passing car. Gina was all this and more. She had never been a popular girl; she had been bullied and taunted and then ignored most of her young life. She was afraid of people, defensive, always preparing herself for another onslaught of insults and dirty looks. She had learned to protect her feelings well. Her insides were soft and easily bruised. Her idea of tough was to walk with her head up no matter what anyone said, and to give flip answers on occasion. She had no idea what real toughness was, or what she would be up against in the world. She would soon find out.
Gina s older sister Theresa Marie Carelli was a practical no-nonsense redhead with bright hazel eyes. She had no flights of fancy, no crazy thoughts or ideas like Gina. She loved to read and write poems and had a quiet strength. She didn t have a fierce temper like Gina , a hurricane that blew in and then blew out , but when Terry got mad the room turned to ice.
She had a few steady boyfriends
- she would go with them, assessing their
potential, checking for compatibility. They would always part as the best of friends. Terry needed more out of life. She had solid plans, and she carefully and methodically went about making them come true. She had a kind heart and a clear mind, just like their mom, a combination many found irresistible The Marino men and their associates would often proposition Theresa on her way to and from work. They would try to touch her and flirt shamelessly with her. Being a well-bred girl, she d refuse ever so politely, shaking her head and smiling as though she deeply regretted this. But inside, Terry was far from flattered. Where Gina would have been both embarrassed and yet excited by this attention, never having received much from anyone, Terry was insulted and felt violated. Not embarrassed, just angry. Theresa wisely did not mention this to her family, knowing it would cause hard, painful feelings. She saw Thomas on occasion, but didn t think much of him one way or the other. She thought he was a nice kid, attractive and pleasant, but that s where her thoughts ended. She saw him far less than Gina did, because Theresa always worked, she even welcomed over-time. She needed to save her money to buy her family a condo or a house someday. That was her dream. She didn t love all animals with the same fervent passion and devotion as Gina did, she liked them well enough, in her quiet, sensible way, and she would ooh and aah when she saw a kitten or puppy. Still she was glad that her mother had never wanted a pet, whereas Gina pouted and protested. Terry was the cool, calm person that Gina only pretended and aspired to be. Even though she loved her, Gina often felt envy and a twinge of animosity. Terry, in turn, humored, protected, resented and ignored Gina, whatever she felt was required the most at the time.
They were separated by only 3 years, but it might as well have been a chasm.
Strangely enough, Mrs. Carelli felt closer to Gina, even though Terry was more like her in temperament. Mrs. Carelli knew, deep in her mother s heart, that Gina needed her more somehow, would always need her, whereas Terry would get along just fine, thank you very much. Terry always kept her pain to herself, and sometimes she wouldn t even admit there was any
pain. Gina would try valiantly, but always ended up telling everything to her mother. Dad was a shadow that stayed in the background, a quiet gentle balding man who lay on the bed a lot and watched TV for hours at a time. He had watery, gray green eyes that always seemed about to shed tears. He would take long walks by himself, hardly ever spoke and when he did it didn t always make sense . A pattern had been repeated in the Carelli family. Gina s grandmother had been the strong, competent one in the relationship, and her grandfather had been a small, quiet fragile man of few words. So it was with her mom and dad.
Gina loved her dad, sometimes she felt so sorry for him she would lie awake at night and cry, but she could never feel close to him. He was as remote and cold as a star, without the twinkle. Although he possessed a quirky sense of humor and offbeat charm when it suited him. Kids loved him, and he in turn loved them, smiling and laughing as they played games together. Suddenly he would tire of their chatter and would go back to his room and close the door. Her mother was indescribable - a wonderful curious blend of practical common sense and maternal devotion. She would alternately smother you with fierce protective love and then attempt to push you away with pseudohardness so you could be independent. This ploy never worked, Gina saw right through it. Mom encouraged this bond, for she had been sad and lonely much of her life. She often told Gina of her hard childhood, her abusive half-brother, and entering a marriage she rushed into just to get away from her home. Gina felt sorry for her. Her mother s anger at her father only fueled Gina s own helpless frustration. Gina, he s good for nothing. I can t talk to him, he never takes me out or buys me anything.
He bought us cannolis last year! Gina would mention half-jokingly, and her mother would give her a mock glare. Right! Last year! Is that why we had that lunar eclipse?
They would laugh and feel good again.
Warm and close and light.
Tommy would do her family a favor. ingratiate himself with them.
That was it.
He would find a way to
Later that night Tommy got his chance. Pasquale or Pat as he was called, struggled with his bags. He worked in the market making sausages for the crowd of people that shopped at the outdoor stands, but he loved it. He liked the guys, their easy banter and joking, their slaps on the back. Always a quiet shy man, he sparkled whenever he was around these men, and he even managed a joke or two.
They in turn called him St. Pat . He would do anything for his friends, he would patiently stand all day and night and take over their pushcarts if they had to go home early or do some errands. He always smelled of smoke and oil and onions, and no amount of washing could take it away. Mrs. Carelli complained and swore about it all the time, but he knew she was happy. That was just her nature. Maria meant no harm. He let it go in one ear and out the other.
As he carried his bags home he smiled . The guys had given him fresh fruits and vegetables to take to his wife. That ll keep her quiet one of them had said with a grin and a wink. Boy, I must be getting old, I m only 54 but these bags feel like they weigh a ton. Sweat broke out on his forehead.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, it seemed, Tommy appeared. His blonde hair shining in the light of the street lamps. His eyes were hooded, in shadow. Hello, Mr. Carelli, can I help you with your bags? Tommy had been rehearsing, waiting for this chance. He knew that Saturday night was market night for Mr. Carelli and that he almost always came home laden with produce. Oh - sure. Sure Tommy, thanks Pat stammered out. He didn t know the boy well, but he had heard good things about him, and he knew instantly that he liked him. Pasquale Carelli lived by his intuition and instinct and it had done him well so far. Hadn t he found and married the best woman in the world and had a good peaceful life? I ll carry them upstairs for you. No, just up to the building. Tommy blushed. I ll be okay. He sighed and waited They re too heavy, son
He entered the building and faced the steep stairs. for Mr. Carelli to come in.
Tommy s muscles ached and cramped, his breathing was shallow, his head hurt from the weight of these bags. He had never been a strong or healthy boy. Still he had to do this. He gave a bright smile and said, You lead the way, sir
Pasquale smiled back, more like a twisted grimace - his idea of a smile. They slowly climbed the stairs, Tommy in the rear. His heart raced, his head pounded, and he shook all over. answered the door? What if she were standing there? Then - what if she were sleeping? Pat opened the door and waved Tommy in shyly. Tommy hesitated for just a moment, then crossed the threshold. Mrs. Carelli was at the kitchen table reading a book and drinking some coffee. What if Gina
She glanced up, startled. He came forward and put the bags on the table . Hi. Just wanted to help. Thank you, sweetheart. You re a doll.
Maria regained her composure.
He wanted to glance around but felt suddenly foolish and depressed. What was he thinking? He quickly decided to turn and then he saw her. Hiding, peeking out from a bedroom door, her hair in curlers, in a long bathrobe. He flushed and turned away. Tommy walked out. He walked down the steps, his eyes filling with tears. He had felt so unwelcome in that house. No one offered him a drink, no one asked him to come in and stay. They seemed like nice people Was it him? Gina had been unprepared and embarrassed. What a mistake. Well, goodnight.
Terry, her sister, was probably working over time again or out on a date. Tommy had heard about her - a hard working girl with a steady stream of admirers. The guys kept tabs on their comings and goings, that was for sure. He looked up at the window on the second floor, and felt a surge of regret and longing. Why don t they like me? Why don t I belong?
Mrs. Carelli turned to her husband, hands on hips. up here? I didn t. He offered to carry my bags.
Why did you take him
But he came in! Look! The house is a mess! encompass as much space as she could. He doesn t care
Maria swept her arm to
And how do you know? That s Dominic Marino s son, for God s sake, used to fancy people, a fancy life, we live in this tiny hole. It doesn t matter, Maria. He s a nice kid.
Gina came out of the room, her cheeks flushed, her eyes shining. Mrs. Carelli turned to her . And look at the poor girl. She s a mess. Her hair all in curlers, she s in pajamas. Oh please! I hope he didn t see her!
Gina rolled her eyes.
That makes two of us, Ma
Pasquale Carelli, don t you EVER do that again, you hear me? We re not his type of people, you understand? They never like our kind. Okay, okay Pat shrugged his shoulders and sighed. He would avoid a confrontation at all costs, and angry words made him sick. And I don t wanna hear stranger, remember. He s a nice kid - you don t know that. He s a
He nodded and walked into his room, shrugging off his jacket and closing the door softly behind him. Gina sat on the couch, then popped up again. in here. Maybe he s just curious. About what? Ma, I can t believe he came
Gina, I am not a mind reader, I can t say, honey. getting late.
Now go to bed, it s
Gina reluctantly stopped talking and went into her room, threw herself on the bed and crossed her arms behind her head. She stared up at the ceiling, her mind sputtering and sparking with emotion and excitement. She d ask Terry. Terry would know. Maybe - was he looking for Terry? sat up, her chest aching. Oh God, was that it? Did he come up just to see if Terry were home? She
Then his smile flashed into her mind, that slow beautiful smile and the look he had given her. She shook her head to dispel the image, because although it gave her joy it also reminded her of things she could not have, a world she could not be a part of. Gina didn t hear her sister come in an hour later. She was fast asleep, clutching her pillow and curled up in a fetal position. Terry came over to her and gently stroked her hair. Gina had never gone on dates. She had never had a boyfriend. Terry fought back tears. It wasn t fair. Life was never fair. Gina was a good person. She had problems, and they stood in the way of so much.
She shrugged off her dress and put on her robe. Soon she would join her mother for a while at the kitchen table and discuss things that Gina knew nothing about. Like household repairs, budgets, savings accounts, bills that had to be paid, problems that had to be solved. Terry dealt with all that efficiently and effortlessly - or so it seemed. She was so tired. She had even begun to smoke lately to ease her stress, something she never would have even considered before. She had lost even more weight. Terry had always been slim, but now she was even thinner. She promised she would give up smoking. She had the willpower and God knew how much she hated to rely on an outside source for help, especially something like an addictive habit. Plus it made her clothes and breath smell. She wrinkled her nose. Tomorrow she would quit cold turkey.
Terry glanced once more at her sister. you, kid.
She smiled and whispered,
She had received a marriage proposal tonight, from a young man who was an accountant with a good firm. She liked him, he was just her type. But Terry would never mention this to her mother or Gina. She had politely yet firmly turned him down. She would never even think of leaving her family to fend for themselves.. They needed her, there was so much work to be done. Gina shifted in her sleep and sighed. Terry tightened the belt on her robe so Ma wouldn t see how much weight she had lost. She quietly left the bedroom they shared, leaving the door a little open so some light would come through.
Gina had always been afraid of the dark.
Chapter 4 Gina sat mesmerized by the music. She had never heard such beauty, such emotion. She longed to escape into that world, she longed for a world as lovely as that sound. She sang her heart out but felt lost and empty. As she sat by the window, she would pull open the lace curtains and peek out. She loved to hear the men talk, their rough and tumble speeches, their shouts and remarks. It made her feel safe somehow, knowing they were out there. There. There they were. She could hear them now, Tommy and his father Dominic, Tommy murmuring and Dominic yelling in his inimitable bellow. Dad, I told you I ll do it later. I want it done now! for! You hear me! Now! ASAP! That s what you re here
Can I at least go wash up - shave or something? Go ahead, don t take all goddamn day, we got work to be done. expecting you. G.G. s
Did he like the way his dad talked to him? Did he know his dad really loved him behind the harsh words? Gina could never feel loved like that, she could never accept a harsh word or a look, she would cringe and feel like crying or get those goosebumps that always signaled shame and embarrassment. She watched Tommy walk away with that proud walk of his, studied and measured, a walk that seemed to say to the world, Here I am, and I am fantastic! At least SHE thought he was. She turned away from the window to change the radio station. She hated
when a song came on that wasn t her type. She d get impatient and quickly turn the dial until one of her songs came on instead. Hey, Tommy! a loud female voice pretty young girl came towards him knew she would never possess. The shoulder and drew him to one side, called out. Gina peeked out again. A with a sexy strut and swagger that Gina girl casually draped one arm around his nuzzling his neck.
Hi sweetie She laughed. Gina let the curtain fall back, and felt a shiver run through her. He could have anybody he wanted. Girls threw themselves at him all the time. Why did she even care? He probably liked the loud sexy types and she was nothing like that. Still she found herself thinking I wish he liked me. I wish he would notice me. She felt like crying, and her vulnerability made her angry. You stupid jerk, she mumbled to herself, what are you thinking? He s probably conceited anyway. She turned back to her music and didn t look in time to see Tommy shrug away from the budding sexpot and wave her off as he went into his building.
Chapter 5 He wanted something. He needed - something - but he wasn t sure what it was. Searching, always searching, his eyes reflecting this in their penetrating, yet impenetrable gaze. The girls, the money, the power - that was never enough, that wasn t for him. It couldn t take away the hurt, couldn t erase the memories, and the feelings he had. Dad. Mom. Guys. I love you. Why can t you see that? I can t take this. I love you all so much.
Tommy picked up the pills that always remained by his side, in his jacket pocket, or on his bureau by his bed. He smiled. Hi, my old pals. How are you doing today? I m just fine - just dandy. You re probably the only real friends I ve got He shook the pills out into his trembling hands and stared at them for a long time. Then he glanced up at the mirror as though breaking a spell. He saw a pale tired scared face, young and yet aging fast. Receding hair line - it had started to recede when he was only 21. But that hadn t seemed to bother the girls. Why not? Was it his dad s name, the money, the prestige of going out with a mobster s son? He didn t like some of the girls that paid attention to him, they were too tough, they swore and cursed as much as his dad and uncle did! Quick to anger, quick to use their fists. He wanted someone gentle, a kind woman, far removed from this life and its streetwise atmosphere. Tommy was sick- sick of everything - and tired. A bone-weary, aching fatigue that made him cry and sweat from even the smallest exertion sometimes. God, are you out there? Do you love me? hard. Then do something, will you? He hesitated, and swallowed
Chapter 6 It was full steam ahead for Jackie and the neighborhood kids. The kids whose parents owed the Marinos big time. Immigrants from Portugal and Italy, poor families who needed a break. Dominic made sure they got set up in good apartments for less than 50 bucks a month. They became indebted to him. The women got new refrigerators and stoves and food every week, while the men got good paying jobs. These kids would do whatever was needed, and they d keep their mouths shut. Anyway, Jackie always put in a little extra incentive. The nice white powder and the colorful pills. All to ensure their proper allegience. Besides, that s what it was all about in the 80 s. Big hair, big music, big highs. It all went together nicely with what was going down on Bennett Street. Jackie himself snorted the white stuff once in a while, why not? IT kept him feeling energetic and young again, at least for a while. Not bad for an overweight man in his 50 s. The kids, mostly adolescents and older teens, played look-out for the Mob, and did whatever else required. Jackie became affectionately known as the Coke Machine , a title he abhorred. He knew he was no dope peddler, he was a decent man, who worked hard and earned a living just like everybody else. This was just one of those things he had to do. Keep the kids happy, get things done, that s what it s all about. One kid in particular bothered Jackie and gave him the creeps. Pepper, they called him. His brother was known as Salt. He was a wiry little kid, much smaller than his age. Dark hair, dark skin, a wide mouth. Fresh out of grade school but streetwise like nobody s business. Sharp eyes and an even sharper tongue. He already talked, walked and acted like the toughest wise guy. IT was disconcerting to see such a young kid so jaded and hard. IT wasn t just the dope. Jackie knew. This kid emulated what he saw all around him. It was his way out of his boring, mundane and unprofitable existence. A small thin homely kid with no particular talent or usefulness was going to be heard and listened to. He would not be bossed or bullied HE would do the ordering around. This would be heady stuff for anyone, but to a kid high on coke? IT was manna from heaven. Jackie heard the static from the walkie talkie and then Pepper s high pitched voice.
Hey Jackie I m here Some asshole s been walking around, looking up at windows. something down on his head? Jackie chuckled. Naw. I ll let Rico know. Jackie contacted Marino. We got a visitor, Rico, staring up. Want us to scare him off or what? Naw. See what else he does. Should I throw
Keep an eye on him.
I ll put some guys on the corner, that ought to do it. Jackie contacted Pepper. It s okay, kid. Rico s on it.
Just let me know, Jackie, and I ll crack the motherfucker s skull in. Jackie winced and broke off contact. This was a new breed for him. Younger and more vicious than the guys he grew up with. People could be cynical and say that the Marinos created this monster, but Jackie knew, deep in his gut, that the monster had been there all along, lying dormant, just waiting for a time when it could be let loose.
The man went away later unharmed, apparently right after catching a glimpse of three burly men in leather jackets on a dark corner. Besides, he got his tires slashed and his car scratched up pretty good for looking up at those windows.
Chapter 7 Tommy had developed serious bowel troubles by the time he was 12, and it got so bad that he had to take pills and wear protective underwear, just in case. The doctors had said it was all psychosomatic, caused by some underlying problem or stress, no one could say. Dom loved his sons, God only knew how much. His wife Lucy and he engaged in loud, physical shouting matches, but all his affection was lavished upon the boys, Tommy the older, and Paul his young brother. Hugs and kisses as well as slaps, curses and endless tirades. Dominic loved to pile his children s plates high with delicious home-cooked meals - spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, all kinds of specialties. But if they ever did anything to displease him he would deny them this treat and would send them to bed hungry. Even though the boys were now in their 20 s, they still remembered this. The brothers associated food with love and lack of food as loss of affection and approval. Paul became overweight from excessive eating, and although Thomas would eat to excess sometimes
way into the night, he remained slender. Paul had dirty blonde hair and green eyes, an easygoing charm, a bright pleasant manner that hid a backbone of steel. He always knew just what to say or do to defuse his volatile parents. Tommy, on the other hand, would be emotionally awkward , extremely quiet and shy. Paul moved away at a young age to find his fortune in New York, with Dad s blessing. He went to work for a successful law firm. Tommy chose to stay with Dom and help out as he was needed. Somehow he just didn t feel right leaving his parents alone when he knew there was work to be done.
Chapter 8 Tommy had his memories. Lucy Marino headed many committees in the neighborhood. She was a social activist way ahead of her time - a larger than life, take charge, no nonsense woman - larger than life in every way. Just like Dominic. She overpowered her children with her fierce hugs and loud exclamations of emotion. Tommy felt smothered more than loved, and Paul learned at an early age how to wriggle away from his parents grasp. One night, at bed-time, on the rare nights when they talked to each other, Tommy had turned to Paul and asked, How do you do it, Paulie? Doesn t everything get to you?
Paul instantly knew what he meant. He had grown up with the hurricane swirling all around, a maelstrom of emotions and tempers, a cauldron of instability. You just do it, Tommy. You just shut up and play the game. know how to play the game You gotta
What game? Tommy wanted to ask. This is no game, this is my life. These are my parents. He hated this about his brother - this glibness, this superficiality. Tommy didn t press the issue, or ask for pointers. He figured the game would just continue to elude him and so would the fine art of playing it.
As fearsome as his father was, Tommy also knew the damage his mother could inflict. For as surely as the sun rose in her, it set just as quickly. She could turn on a dime and display a brittle devastating temper. Not physically harmful in any way. More like a constant harangue that wore the listener down and drove him to deep despair. Tommy remembered one particular day. He ran to her to show her a picture he had drawn of an animal. He was a fine artist, and he loved to sketch. Can I show Dad? Honey, your Dad is busy today. He s off working - making money. So we can have these nice things and have a nice life. For us.
Something about the way she said the word money made Tommy think that this could be a bad thing, a source of contention between the two. Dad works too hard Yes, he does. Can I help him sometimes? Tommy loved to be useful and needed.
Lucy hesitated and a spark came into her eyes. No dear, you don t have to do that. Daddy has Uncle Rico to help and all these other people he hires. He doesn t need you. You re gonna be somebody special, remember? Remember what we talked about? Tommy vaguely remembered a conversation about doctors, and him wanting to be an animal doctor, or work with animals in some way.
You mean me being a vet? She frowned. Are you sure you want to be that, sweetheart? Why not a real doctor? Work with people? Now that s a worthy profession. You make lots of money, you get respect Ma, I don t have a way with people. blood. I get sick You know me. And I hate the sight of
She laughed loudly, her laughter echoing through the house and bouncing around in his head.
You hate the sight of blood? Tommy, honey she stood up and spoke as though he were a simple child - will you just use your head? You re gonna see blood all the time if you work with animals. They have blood too you know. Don t you get it? But not as much as people. She kept laughing. I mean - he began to stutter it won t be as bad.
Sweetheart, don t you get it? It s practically the same thing. PLUS you have to go to school for about 12 years, now you know how much you hate going to school.
Tommy was confused. She was pushing for him to be some kind of a physician, yet here she was telling him all about the obstacles of being a vet! Not exactly the kind of encouragement Tommy needed to go into the medical profession. Tommy knew it would never work out for him. dreams being sucked right out. He felt all his hopes and
Still he struggled. This will be different. I can make this happen, Ma. I m good with animals. I love them. How? How are you gonna make this happen? Blood is blood, Tommy. Think about it. She tapped the side of her head with her finger. Think He turned away, but she would not let him off that easily. Now, if you were to become a real doctor - all that time and effort wouldn t be wasted. It would be worth it. You see? You d make all your money back and then some. Honey, you would be respected and admired - you know Dad and I would support you in this. And I guess the blood wouldn t matter then, right, Ma? She hesitated and seemed confused. Oh, you ll get used to it. You d be surprised what you can tolerate once your mind is set on something. Tommy suddenly felt exhausted. Having a conversation with his mom and dad always made him feel as though he had been in the boxing ring with a heavyweight champion. Look, I m gonna go lie down, I m a little tired.
Lucy stepped back a little, and her face hardened. He could tell she felt slighted and dismissed, not heard, Tommy could always tell. He was extremely sensitive to the expressions and nuances and tones of every living person. Well, then she said a little too harshly, before you go take your nap, take the garbage out. It s over there. It s garbage day today. Paulie ran by just as Tommy was lugging out the heavy bags of garbage. Bye, Ma, just wanted to tell you I gotta run. my friends. I m going to meet some of
Before Lucy could even open her mouth, Paulie grabbed something from the counter and ran out ahead of Tommy. He was always light on his feet. Paulie turned and smiled. See you later, Tom Yeah, see ya. Tommy watched him leave, bouncing down the sidewalk with enormous grace, whistling. How do you do it, Paulie? He found himself asking again, only this time in his head. It was like Paul had an invisible bubble surrounding him, that protected him from everyone and everything - from Mom and Dad, from the things they said and did. Tell me your secret, Paul. The brothers were close in age but miles apart in terms of emotions and temperament. A chasm had been placed between them by 2 parents who often times forced them to compete for love and relief from angry tirades. If you re a good kid like Paulie here, I won t have to get mad at you. Understand, Tommy? Good boy? Like how? Tommy tried to understand. He watched Paulie. He studied him. You could say he was an expert at Paulie 101. Paul never spilt any milk, never knocked things over, he didn t cry when he was upset, he never said the wrong things to set Mom and Dad off. He kissed his Mom and Dad and even allowed them to squeeze him in one of their boa constrictor hugs. Tommy, on the other hand, was awkward. Always tripping or falling, or knocking down one of Mom s precious collectibles. He cried easily and often, which infuriated Dad to no end.
Tommy remembered another day. Dad was teaching him how to drive. Tommy asked for someone else to show him, one of Dad s friends, but Dad wouldn t hear of it. He was the boss and Tommy was HIS son. Tommy became so nervous his hands trembled on the wheel. Dad saw this and quickly slapped him, mostly on the side of his head which was the only part of Tommy s face he could reach right then. The expression on Dad s face seemed strange, almost like he was going to cry but instead he got angry. Dad I m going to screw this up So what? I just know it We all screw up
You re a new driver, just learning.
Sounded good to Tommy, it actually sounded like Dad understood and was going to be reasonable. In reality, however, things were different. Dad would lean forward and pound on the dashboard with his fists, hurling a stream of invectives. Tommy forced himself to perform better, he forced himself with all his might to remember things. He knew in some bizarre way that Dad could actually be good for him. In a painful awful way, Dad s harangues and insults made him learn even better and faster, so he would not have to listen and suffer any longer than he needed to.
One eventful day was etched in Tommy s brain, seared there as though by the sun. Tommy had gotten a motorcycle as a present from Mom and Dad, mostly Dad s idea, because Ma was afraid he would get hurt. He had successfully completed his driving lessons, having needed extra ones. Tommy had just gone down the street when the motorcycle skidded on something, crashed and landed on its side, throwing him off. Lucy had been in front of Rico s building, engaged in a loud argument with Dominic, gesturing frantically. Still, it was almost like Lucy sensed the crash rather than saw or heard it. She turned and saw what had happened. She ran, as large as she was, she ran very quickly to where her son lay. Some people had come over. Tommy lay there for a few minutes, stunned but not hurt. Then he heard his mother from a few feet away, wailing and calling to him. He cringed, and tried to get up. His leg had been twisted. Tommy my baby! she loudly cried. It sounded like she was weeping.
Honey, are you alright? I m fine, Ma, I m okay, it s nothing. He tried again to get up. Somebody grabbed his arm to hoist him onto his feet. His face was bright red. God, he hated this attention. He was 17. Lucy kept stroking his head, his body, kissing him and checking for injuries. Onlookers seemed amused or puzzled, but Tommy was deeply ashamed. Ma seemed oblivious to the crowd. It felt as though they were laughing at HIM. People respected his mother for her charity work and social connections, for her colorful personality. Tommy was the one who would bear the brunt of this - he would be the object of their jokes. No one dare laugh at or criticize Lucy anyhow. She would slash you with her razor of a tongue and her piercing wit. Tommy pushed her away. Ma, Please I'm fine
Honey she glanced around at the crowd, her eyes glistening, taking it all in. They could see how much she loved him and what a good mother she was. So what she had never given birth. She was still a REAL mother, a natural mother. Honey, are you okay? Let Ma see
I m fine. he blurted out. He eluded her grasp, something he could never have done when he was little, at least not with the finesse of his brother.
Lucy seemed hurt, but most of all angry - the dominant emotion in the Marino household. She tried to hold his arm and he struggled to get free. She had even left a red mark by holding on too tight to his flesh. He could feel it. This hurt him more than the fall. Then her eyes glazed over, and a veil passed over them. No harangue this time, not for him, not in public. To attack Dad was perfectly acceptable, but never the kids. Not in front of her fans and judges. She spoke in a cold flat tone, so unlike her usual ebullient dramatic voice. I ll see you when you get home. Be careful next time.
Tommy felt like crying. He knew he had wounded her. between them now. It would never again come down.
A wall had come
When he got home, she was there, still cool and remote. Tommy wished he could cajole her out of her bad mood, but somehow he knew this wasn t just a bad mood. Not a mood at all. Something different. Something worse. I m going to visit one of my friends. Okay, Ma. Perfect. He would bake her a coconut cake, her favorite. One with 3 layers. It was Tommy s way of apologizing. That s how he would make it up to her. Then he made a huge pot of coffee for everybody. house loved coffee. Everyone in their I ll be back later.
He waited anxiously for the door to open. He watched TV, then he shut it off. He paced up and down, then he went to lie on his bed. The silence of the house felt soothing to him, never sad or scary. IT was a welcome change. Yet he missed his mother s smile and he regretted hurting her.
Finally she walked in. production.
More like bustled in, everything a grand noisy
The cake sat on the table in full view. of coffee filled the air. Tommy smiled. She stared at the cake then at him. I m going upstairs to take a bath.
She couldn t miss it.
Something flickered in her eyes. I m beat.
Ma - wait - I made you - don t you want Page 51 She kept walking towards the stairs. I made you a cake, Ma. She turned and smiled. is too fat. I m on a diet, honey. I just started today. Ma
She climbed the stairs. Tommy stared at the cake. He wanted to throw it against the perfect white walls. Maybe Dad and him could eat it later. Dad wasn t as big on sweets as Ma was, but he might eat it if it was there. Should Tommy lie and say he made it especially for him? No. Because if Ma ever said the truth, Dad would hit the roof. Better to be honest. Dad would always find out if you were hiding anything, anyway. Dad didn t come home until 9 Tommy had the cake for breakfast in the morning, and then his lunch. Paulie enjoyed the rest later.
Chapter 9 Another memory. The Catholic all boys school that Tommy went to had closed. It had been run by Franciscan monks and Tommy had loved it so much. Dad had decided to send him to a public school, so he could learn how to get along with all kinds of kids, instead of being so sheltered. During these high school years, Tommy had run into a group of black classmates, boys, who openly harassed him, making fun of his blonde hair and lashes and brows, calling him a pretty boy, and an albino fag. When Tommy would flush a deep red in embarrassment, they would also call him lobster face. Tommy never told his dad. He knew what would happen. His father would storm into the school, Lucy in tow, hurling insults and threats. Dad might even get the teenagers thrown out of school, or more likely, beaten up. Tommy didn t want any trouble. He just wanted everything to disappear - himself, mostly. Some of the kids from Roxbury and Jamaica Plain were good to him. particular stood out in Tommy s memory. One in
His name was Chris. He wore thick glasses and had an uncommonly deep voice for a young teenager. He would sit with Tommy at lunch time and stare at the boys with barely concealed disdain, shaking his head once they were out of view.
Don t mind them, man, they re just a bunch of punks. Nothing good to say about nobody. Just because they don t like where their lives are at, doesn t give them the right to pick it out on you. Tommy didn t want anybody to know about these things, but Chris had heard them one day. Tommy changed the subject. These hamburgers are lousy. Yeah, they are, they suck Chris smiled and Tommy smiled back. You wanna see some of my sketches? Sure man, pass them over. Chris adjusted his glasses higher up on his nose so he could see the drawings. Tommy took out his sketchbook and slid it across the table over to Chris.
Chris looked them over. After a brief silence, he said, this one, some kind of a bird? That s a peacock. It s got all kinds of colors, it s almost psychedelic. s cool You re just saying that.
I like it man, it
No, I mean it, you got some talent! Go to art school or something. your old man to send you. You can afford it, right? Chris had heard a little about Tommy but not much. Oh yeah, Dad could do that. Then get the old man to agree. waste it. What do you want to be, Chris? Me? Chris seemed pleased that someone had asked him and he leaned forward. I got an interest in economics. That s where the money is. I got a head for it, so -
You got talent, you need to use it, don t
Chris, you re smart, I ve seen you in class. Tommy grinned. You come right up with those answers. He snapped his fingers quickly a few times. I take after my dad. He s numbers up in his head like planning to branch out, and school. Maybe we ll have a That would be great, Chris. a whiz, man. I mean, my old man can add nobody s business. He has a store, but he s I m thinking of helping him when I get outta whole chain of stores someday. I sure hope so.
Chris knew Tommy meant this. He liked this gentle boy with the shy smile. Kids who looked like Tommy would end up in a bad way in Chris neighborhood, either quietly resented or openly attacked. Chris supposed it was the same for him in Tommy s neck of the woods. But here, like this, just the two of them, this was the whole world, right here - right now. No neighborhood, no problems. Just two boys sharing their dreams. Chris knew that was how it should be. But shoulds didn t count in this world, and they never would. He stood up, wiping some crumbs on his shirt. Well, see you around, Tommy Yeah, Chris, okay, you too. Chris saw two of the boys that harassed Tommy walking by with some pretty black girls. The girls glanced at them, a little frightened and sorry. Chris glanced cooly at them, and then at Tommy. He wished there was something he could do. His fists clenched, and his eyes stung. Then he closed his mind to other people s problems. He had enough of his own. Still he was angry. Take care he said again. then he left the cafeteria. He put his hand quickly on Tommy s shoulder
Tommy finished his burger and looked around feeling suddenly cold, as though he had just moved out of a warm spot in the sun. Tommy didn t know, but later Chris could be seen talking to some of the kids from his neighborhood. They would talk of things that Tommy knew nothing about. Chris spoke with courage and affection. The punks never bothered Tommy again. They backed off, due to severe peer
pressure. Tommy no longer had to hear those hateful words that made him feel like an outsider and a freak. After high school, Tommy never saw Chris again. They vowed to stay in touch but life had other plans for them. Both of them swept away by separate lives, separate plans, worlds apart.
Gina felt fear. She opened the door and began to tremble. Every time she had to go out, she would have a sick feeling in her stomach. Why am I so afraid? Her mind flashed back to her school days when bullies would taunt and tease her. To the days when her legs felt heavy like lead and she could hardly make it up the hill to her school, she would get so short of breath, her chest aching, her eyes stinging. Humiliation, that s all she could seem to remember from those days. Was it really that bad? Was she just too sensitive? She had read about people like her, who were afraid to leave the house. How they stayed home sometimes for years, usually because of a past trauma. No trauma here, Gina she thought. Just silly kid stuff. Time to grow up, girl, get your ass outta the house, fool! She smiled bitterly. Fool is right. Everyone thinks so, I can tell. She shook her head fiercely. No! No! Let s get this over with. In her mind s eye she could already feel the effort of every step as she walked, she could see the cars whizzing by and hear and notice every little thing going on around her, scattering through her brain, hissing and sparking. She d be in a daze, like a fragile porcelain doll afraid to move or speak or even breathe. She turned to her mother. I don t feel so good, ma. Can I go out later maybe?
Forget about it, will you please? you gonna stop this? I don t know, I m just What? WHAT?
I ll go myself, Gina.
Jesus, when are
her mother put her hands on her hips in exasperation.
Ma didn t understand, she had never heard of anything like this. It seemed yet another shameful weakness Gina possessed, a foolish embarrassing flaw.
Ma, I m sorry.
Maybe Terry can go later on her way home. She works hard, hon, she s busy. You re home
Sure, Terry, always Terry! all day, you have the time. Page 31 Ma - Please?
Gina half whimpered, half yelled.
Oh go ahead, go lie down, go listen to your music, go do something. I clean when you re out I know. is? You clean. Big deal. Gina - a job? Do you remember what that
Gina had worked on and off for years, but this time she had been out of work for about 8 months. Not because the economy was bad, no sir, but because of her nameless fears. She would race back home at lunch-time, to check on her mom and to be in the only place she really felt safe and real. She loved her mom, too too much, everyone said, even in her grade school days, she would rush to her mom s side, sitting on the couch next to my best friend as she would proudly call her. Gina longed to drive a car, to go out on long walks by herself, even to travel. She felt like an incompetent basket case, and in everyone s eyes she probably was. Why couldn t she be normal, like Terry or the girls from her neighborhood - smart, self-assured, able to negotiate and navigate through the landmines and valleys and hustle and bustle of ordinary life without getting overwhelmed or afraid? She had often thought of ending her life, not in any specific way, she had no special plan, just in vague dramatic tear jerking fantasies. She would be missed by all, people who used to make fun of her and despise her would
now throw themselves on her coffin and beg forgiveness. They would all say what a wonderful girl she had been. As silly as her fantasies were, they still brought tears to her eyes and a sad smile to her lips.
Chapter 11 Sophia strutted by the groups of men. She knew that most of them were married, but she was bored and besides she looked so hot in her yellow two piece shorts set. Sophia was raised to be pretty. She had been strutting around the neighborhood since she was old enough to walk, assured of her petite charm. Taking ballet lessons and dance classes, to ensure a fluidity and grace of motion. Instead of just achieving these desirable attributes, Sophia had done much more. She had morphed into a sexy young lady with killer moves and a body that loved to work out in the gym. She learned at an early age how to pose, to sit, to stand, to walk, for maximum effect. She spent hours at a tanning salon, studied how models put on makeup in magazines and copied them step by step, she had her hair styled, permed, highlighted and blow dried. Her nails were always done long and red, and she had pedicures and body waxing. Her appearance was her greatest asset, along with her bright personality and flashing dimples. In Sophia s world, getting a special guy was more important than getting a great job. Still, she dreamed of being famous in some vague way, like a model or an actress, maybe even a singer, although Sophia didn t have much of a voice. She just knew she was as sexy as some of those other girls, and she could have the life they had too. She wanted a glamorous life and all it had to offer. Sophia had never really been mean as a child, not stuck up. Just bubbly and cute, charming and dainty. She was never as tough or as streetwise as some of the girls she grew up with. She could curse a blue streak when
angry, and her voice retained the slangy accent of her neighborhood. Still, Sophia was determined to not only look like a star, but to act like one. A core of steel ran through her, a hardness that caused her parents to despair at times. Beneath the dimples and the makeup and clothes that bared her midriff, Sophia would always get what she wanted, no matter what it took. And what she wanted right now was Tommy Marino. Or at least his attention. She wasn t getting it. Not at all. Sophia knew Tommy was the prize - a distant aloof goal she had to achieve, sparkling with promise, yet so remote. Just like her dreams of being a model or an actress. So far away, yet infusing her every waking moment. She had to get him to notice her. She had to.
The day she draped herself around his neck and he shrugged her away - the day Gina saw her from her window - this was the beginning of an all out campaign. A campaign waged largely behind the scenes, that went pretty much unnoticed by many, a furtive underground burst of activity and best laid plans. Sophia went to school with Gina. She felt sorry for her. She had never been a bully to the girl. But Sophia clearly knew her superiority. She felt confident that the Ginas of this world would step aside for girls like Sophia. She really meant no harm. She could never be considered mean, at least not overtly. Sophia was just looking out for herself - the years had taught her to be self-centered and to go after what she wanted, with a firm sense of entitlement. Then and only then, once she had achieved her goals, she could afford to stop and rest and bestow her smiles and blessings on less fortunate women like Gina. Tommy now was subject to endless accidental meetings with Sophia or her friends, who of course would do nothing but praise her, telling Tommy how hot she was, what a good catch. Tommy didn t like her, he had an intuition that could see well beyond what others saw, he saw an icy coldness underneath the dimples, a calculated motivation inside the doe like brown eyes. Tommy had never liked being manipulated. He had far too much experience with his father. Besides, Sophia was too full of herself. Too sure of her appeal. To people like Tommy, who doubted their very existence, such self assurance and ego was arrogant and incomprehensible, to say the least. Sophia flung off her yellow outfit. Her tanned sleek legs kicked off the
backless pumps she often wore.
Her eyes filled with tears.
I m gonna leave this friggin place. I swear. I hate it. I m going as soon as I can. What s here for me? she asked the dainty flowered wallpaper in her room. She had to get a good job soon. Maybe be a receptionist at a law firm or insurance company. Her heart sank. All those lessons she took for nothing. What a waste. Then she brightened. I might take acting or modeling classes in my spare time. I know I d be awesome! Look, I m acting already, arent I? I m pretending I actually like that prick Tommy. She made a face. Is he a fag or what? I bet he is. She giggled. I m gonna find out one way or the other. Sophia rubbbed body lotion on her legs and arms, until they gleamed. I look good. I mean, I REALLY look good. Did you see some of what s out there? Fat asses, pimple faces, ugly hair, jeez. Thank God I take care of myself. She fluffed her hair until it was a wild mass like a lioness mane. The lioness. Leo. That was her sign. month. Sultry like her. Born in August, a bright fiery
Sophia had been cursed with her father s aquiline nose, or so she thought of it as a curse. But somehow it suited her heart shaped face. Gave her an elegant quality. One guy even called it regal . The idiot. She giggled. She loved when the guys talked like that to her, all because of the way she looked and the toss of her hair and the promise of more to come. Sophia had a good personality, bright and outgoing, but hey, do you think any of those bozos would even care to find out or give her the time of day if it wasn t for her toned and firm body and all that went with it? Sophia heard a knock on the door. Her mom walked in.
Hey, chickie, it s almost time for dinner. Ma, I m going out tonight. Again? What is this? Her tone of voice was the verbal equivalent of I m old enough Her I might be late.
I want to go out. stamping her feet.
I know, honey, I just want to actually see you once in a while. mother smiled and ruffled her hair.
she shook her mom s hand away
you ll ruin my look Mrs.
Ruin it? How could I do that? It s a bird s nest, for Chrissake Bruno grinned and they both burst out laughing. Well sorry that s the style, Ma. Dear old Ma, old lady
So you re not staying for dinner at all? I ll grab something later on, okay? grinned. Okay, have fun. And Be careful. There s a lot of nuts out there. Don t worry, Ma, I ll eat. Sophia
Her mother shot her a warning look.
Are you kidding? Oh yeah?
We re as safe as babies with all these mobsters.
THOSE are the nuts I m talking about,kiddo! They re okay guys, Ma. They re not for you. I gotta change. Now go. Go get dinner.
Sophia frowned. Honey, stay away.
Ma, no more lectures, please.
Her mother blew her a kiss and closed the door behind her. The object of the game was to let Sophia do whatever she wanted. That was how the household stayed happy and that was how everybody stayed sane. Mrs. Bruno was awestruck by her daughter s confident female charisma, and she knew just how smart and determined her child could be. Sophia could take care of herself. She d go far, you didn t have to worry about her. Besides, Mrs. Bruno was just too tired to fight anymore.
Chapter 12 Sophia got her golden opportunity. Paul, Tommy s younger brother, had come in from New York on a long weekend. Paul had always been a go-getter, a
charmer, he knew how to party when he wasn t busy working. He knew the value of shaking hands and kissing babies, he knew the art of flashing a bright smile, no matter how he felt, and convincing the person he was with that he really, really liked them, even though nothing could be further from the truth. In Sophia s eyes, in pretty much everyone s eyes, Tommy had a lot to learn from his younger brother. Sophia had wheedled an introduction to Paul through a guy who hung on the outskirts of the family circle. Paul seemed instantly smitten. He loved pretty girls, fast cars, drinking. Working hard, being successful, making money - it meant nothing to Paul except as a means to an end. To get the flashy toys, to live the good life. He invited Sophia to the most popular disco in town. Sophia, so going out on dates with handsome boys and men, considered this a she could only get Paulie, as he was called, to take his brother along, everything would be perfect. Paul was cute and he was so Sophia, but maybe that was the problem. Too much like her. For reason, this turned her off. used to bonus. If Tommy much like some
She planted the seed of the idea in Paul s mind. Slowly, gently, with each conversation. She even gave him suggestions as to how to invite Tommy, what to say to get him to go. Just don t mention me, Paulie, he s really shy.. He might chicken out. The night of the date, Sophia got a phone call. Hello. Paulie? Tommy agreed to go with you? & He did?..She squealed with delight. You are kidding? You ve got to be & Are you sure? Then she giggled. Oh Paulie you are awesome. This is so awesome. She swallowed hard and changed her tone, trying to sound concerned and therapeutic. This will - this will really help bring him out of his shell, you know, he needs that, he s such a stick in the mud. Yeah, I know. I know. Nothing like you She flashed a smile even though there was no way Paul could see her through the phone. Well then I shall see two handsome boys tonight. hung up, and let out a delighted scream. Her mother ran in. What? What happened? Bye she purred, then
I m going out with the Marino boys tonight Ma. You mean that kid Paulie Yep, him. And his brother. They are so cute.
Two! Two of them
Her mother stared at her, her arms folded. So what s all this about? you interested in one of them or both, what is this? Not really. No. Where? A disco Don t drink too much, you hear me? I will Ma. I left. Oh? Try to come home in one piece Just going to have some fun, that s all
As a matter of fact, I m gonna come home in better shape than
And what the hell does that mean?
She shrugged and flashed her dimples. I don t know. Just crazy talk. Just - I ll come home happy. Happy, okay? Really happy. She patted her mother on the cheek. You better stop worrying, mother dear, or your hair s gonna turn even more gray. Right. I ll stop worrying when you re nice and safe and married. ll stop. Well, from your lips to God s ears. You! her mother beamed at her and gave her a playful punch. want me to help you pick out a dress? So you Then I
Now since when have I needed you to do that? Not since I was about 2. Sophia stuck her tongue out and crossed her eyes. Punk her mother whispered.
Nag she whispered back. This was their affectionate way of saying I love you, you re a pain, but I still love you. Her mother threw her a kiss, her daily habit, and left the room. Sophia knew just the dress she wanted to wear. Hot, hot hot!
Chapter 13 The strobe lights flashed and pulsated, the music pulsated too, shaking the floor and reverberating in your ears and chest. Your whole body would shake, even your teeth. Dancing couples, girls with guys, girls with girls, guys with guys, all caught up in the music and their own dancing. Their eyes closed, focusing only on themselves, or engaging in sexy dances with their partners, touching, feeling, bumping and grinding. Tommy moved through the crowd. The air was smoky, thick and hot. Paul had managed to get him here through a series of belittling lectures and name calling designed to push his buttons. Old man, washed up, boring, dull, dead, pedantic, errand boy. Tommy still stung from these words. Paul could be brutal in his honesty, if he wanted you to change or do something he wanted you to do. Be more like him. Tommy didn t want to be more like him. But because of what little pride he had left, he let the names get to him. He succumbed to his brother s combination of sarcastic put downs and boyish charm. Tommy agreed to go but knew nothing about Sophia being there. it was just him and Paulie. He thought
Tommy pushed past the crowd behind Paul, murmuring excuse me every time he bumped into someone or someone was in his way. Pointless. Dumb. Paul loudly shouted in his ear, Just move, forget about being polite. Paul reached the table first and motioned for Tommy to sit. that he saw Sophia. It was then
He stopped and stared, his spirits, already low to begin with, plummeting even further. Oh shit. It s her. The town sexpot. Should I fall on my knees now or later? At these remarks in his head, so unlike him, except when he was angry or under stress, Tommy began to grin.
Sophia mistook his grin for a sign that he was happy to see her. at him coyly. Hey, Tommy. Nice to see you. Hey. You know Paulie?
I met him a couple of days ago. He invited me. He s so sweet.
That s him.
Tommy smiled and winked at him.
So how are things going with you? Okay, I guess. Same old thing.
Paulie had gotten all their drinks. Sophia had requested a kahlua, Tommy wanted a Diet Coke, and Paulie liked margaritas. Sophia glanced around idly, checking things out. She saw a beefy cute guy walking by in a tank top, a drink in each hand. She smiled. Forget about it, mister. I m with 2 of the best guys around. I got my hands full. The guy hesitated and started to come over, as though he wanted to say something. Sophia glanced away discreetly. The guy took the message, shrugged, and disappeared again into the crowd. So, where have you been hiding all my life, beautiful? Oh brother, Tommy thought. Paulie s eyes glistened as he turned his full attention towards Sophia. She felt Paul s hand on her knee, rubbing it softly. She wasn t scared or nervous or offended. That wasn t her thing. Besides, Paul was handsome, successful. He was a Marino, and you couldn t get better than that in the place she came from. She reached under, squeezed his hand and winked. Tommy remained oblivious. He drank his Diet Coke and glanced around briefly. What s that song? Uh, what? Paul stared at him, his eyes glazed. those did you have? Just one, what are you, blind? You look drunk Tommy frowned. Paulie, how many of
Yeah, I look drunk, right. Sophia interrupted. me
Who cares? Don t forget about
The song - that s Simple Minds -
It s great - I like it. Tommy, do you dance? No, he blushed a deep red. I have 2 left feet.
Great, Sophia thought. You re in the perfect place then. A frigging disco. You don t dance, you don t drink, and you don t even talk much. What DO you do? She sighed. Tommy felt his stomach kicking. please don t do this to me now. not like this. So do you guys like my dress? It s nice - really pretty Tommy smiled and gave her his first long thoughtful look of the night. She was so eager to please, she had taken such care of herself, all made up, dressed to perfection, she was a beautiful girl. But why didn t it matter to him? Something felt wrong - empty. Sophia thrust herself forward. Do you wanna dance with me? you how it s done, I m a great dancer. Paulie frowned. Go ahead, Tommy, dance with her. or two. Live a little. No, no thanks, Paulie, you go. Paul stared at him. Tommy felt sick. You dance. Not me. I can show HE rubbed his forehead nervously. Christ, I don t want to leave - I mean, I do, but
She ll show you a thing
She s asking you.
He made a face.
What s wrong? Paulie asked. He felt a surge of pity for his brother. He remembered all the times when they had been younger, all the visits to the doctor, pills, treatments, Mom and Dad had tried everything, Tommy had
always been sick. He thought Tommy was all better now. things were still the same. I think I ll go to the men s room, I ll be back, Paulie. You want me to come with you?
No way, I ll be fine. Tommy flashed him a smile. You sit there, keep Sophia company. I ll be back - I hope. Unless this crowd swallows me up. He waved to them and turned and disappeared through the room. Tommy returned about 15 minutes later, looking pale and tired. Hey
Sophia sat forward, staring at him. Paulie had told him a little about his brother s condition, because Paul had had a little too much to drink, and Sophia didn t know whether to feel repulsed or sorry. So maybe that was why he avoided her, and never had a girlfriend. Sophia gave him a sad smile. Tommy just stared at her, and then at his brother Paul, who was looking down at his drink. Uh, guys, I m gonna leave now. Okay? You stay here, enjoy yourselves. m going to call myself a cab. I have the money. I ll be fine. Stay Tommy Paulie, stay here. Have fun. With Sophia. Tommy nodded at them both and smiled and gave his familiar wave. I ll catch you both later. Paul shrugged. Okay, then. Take it easy. I
Sophia had been just about to explode and brand Tommy as a selfish, selfcentered, stuck up prick when Paulie had explained his sudden disappearance. Then she had softened and even felt a maternal tenderness towards him, something new and unfamiliar for her. This was something different. HE was different. This was a whole new ball game. She didn t know what to make of it, or even whether she liked it. All she knew was he was beautiful. Sweet. In an angelic kind of way. And she liked him. But there was that flaw. A really bad one. A real turn off. She turned her attention back to Paulie and smiled. Shall we dance? Yes, ma am. Let s
They went out on the dance floor.
Chapter 14 Tommy knew she knew. He could tell by her sympathetic voice, her sad eyes, her sudden gentleness and hesitancy around him. That was so unlike Sophia. Not that she was a bad girl. It just wasn t her. Paulie. Paulie had done this. Tommy became awkward and embarrassed every time she came near him. He pushed her away even harder now, even more determined to avoid her. Could she tell? Damn you, Paulie. You come in, do your damage and then run back off to New York, leaving me to pick up the pieces. As usual. Sohia became frustrated and enraged. How could he be so cold? So standoffish? Who did he think he was? She began to doubt herself. Maybe Tommy just had higher standards than the other guys, maybe he was a gentleman, and he knew she was no lady. Her nose WAS big. IT should have been fixed. She had told her mother that the other day. Tommy could see the hurt in her eyes. He opened his mouth once to say he was sorry, but she walked away before he could say a word. She knew how beautiful she was, she could have any guy she wanted, what difference did he possibly make to her boundless ego? Sophia began to hate him. To hate the very sight of him.
One day she saw the truth behind everything. Gina had walked by while Sophia and her friends were around, standing near Tommy. He stared with open hearted naked affection and longing at Gina Carelli, of all people. Sophia felt a lump in her throat and a shivering feeling run through her. She didn t know it, but it was the feeling of shame and rejection coursing through her body. Something she had been so unfamiliar with. She shook her head as though to dispel an annoying mosquito buzzing near her ears. So that was it. It wasn t because he was afraid of girls. And it wasn t because of any long standing problem. IT was simply because he didn t like Sophia. He liked Gina. The loser who had never even had a date, or a friend, never even looked all that good.
Sophia felt like screaming, crying, cursing. Instead, she did nothing. She smiled at Gina, and then at Tommy. Tommy gave her an obligatory glance and then continued staring at Gina. Drinking her in, probing the depths of her face and her eyes. She was his type, alright. Birds of a feather.
After all Sophia had said and done, the whole neighborhood knew of her feelings. The way she had tried to win his affection, the way she had tried to turn him on. Now she would be a joke, a laughingstock. Because of some pathetic girl she had grown up with, and had never seen as any kind of a threat, nothing to fear, apparently not until now. Not until Tommy decided to make it so. You prick. You loser. Why? Why her? Of all people. Couldn t you have picked someone pretty, with a better body? A personality? Sophia caught a glimpse of Frankie, Jimmy s friend. She was afraid of Jimmy, she had heard stories of his violent temper and the crazy things he could do to you. She stayed away from him. But Frankie, now here was a piece of work. He could prove to be useful. Besides, Sophia needed someone to confide in about this, her mother just wouldn t understand. She would feel sorry for Tommy and think Sophia was terrible. But these guys she grew up with didn t think much of Tommy. That s what she needed. Partiality. Someone on HER side. One of the wise guys she had dated once told her they thought Tommy was weird. Not their kind. Well, guys, let me tell you, you ain t heard nothing yet! Sophia felt a twinge in her heart, something vague and remote, just like her dreams of being a movie star. Something pulling her back from this, calling her away. But she was determined. Angry and determined. All she could seem to remember was the fast glance he had given her and the way he had turned back to plain scared little Gina. And the gleam in Gina s eyes. Was Sophia imagining it or did she really see Gina smirk at her, gloating and triumphant? Well, honey, gloat no more. Your fairy tale prince has a serious doo doo problem, and I am about to make sure everyone knows.
Chapter 15 Sophia regaled Frankie with stories of Gina in her school days. Poor
pathetic Gina. How she had been called in front of the principal, a strict Irish nun, for being such a dreamer (translation: weirdo), and how she had been caught talking to the wall in an empty classroom one day, and singing and dancing with an invisible partner. Also, Sophia told Frankie about Tommy s embarrassing little situation. Frankie laughed so long and so hard that he practically choked.
Frankie ran back to tell Jim and the rest of the guys. Sophia knew he would. Then Rico and Dominic would hear all about these stories. The only thing that worried Sophia was the part about Dominic s son. She asked Frankie to make sure that the Marinos never found out. He promised he would keep it only among himself and the guys. Dominic eventually heard about Gina. He never liked the girl. He had never liked this family. These stories only reinforced his avid dislike and suspicion regarding these people. A bunch of weirdos. They never had company - no relatives to speak of, no friends. Dominic could not know about their history. How the relatives, cousins, aunts and uncles had slowly cut themselves off from each other, through a series of misunderstandings - misunderstandings due to pride, jealousy, greed. Arguments over family wills and property that soon mushroomed into huge chasms of mistrust. Lying was the way to deal with things, stunning indifference was the order of the day. Years of stony silence had taken its toll. The wagons had been formed in a circle, and the Carellis prepared to face life alone. The incident with Rico nagged at Dom. The day when the girl gave him a flip remark. People just didn t do that to the Marinos, to any mobsters. Guys had been killed for less than that. Rico had shrugged it off. It didn t really bother him. Women who didn t answer back struck Rico as even more strange and disturbing than those who did. Fresh remarks were common in the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, Rico enjoyed it. He never felt threatened.
Dominic boiled inside. All these stories about the girl, all these incidents - her never leaving the apartment for days or weeks at a time, her aloofness, her blaring music - all this annoyed Dominic. He wanted these people out of the building. They didn t belong. They just didn t fit in. He didn t help them and they certainly didn t offer to help him. So screw them. He d make sure they d be gone by this time next year, if not sooner.
Now how to do it? This is where Frankie proved to be more than just a pretty face, or a vehicle to pass along gossip. The video surveillance and bugging was a combination of Frankie and Dominic s idea. Dominic had loved the expression I d like to be a fly on the wall and see what s going on One day he had mentioned this in Frankie s earshot, and an idea began to gestate in Frankie s mind. Rico didn t see the point. Dominic knew he had to convince him. He argued about the fact that she didn t work, that she was nosy, they were a strange family, something was up, Rico. Something didn t feel right. Rico had a cautious logical mentality. He would not consider anything unless it proved to be worth both the time and the money. Somehow Dominic convinced him this was worth both, and he grudgingly consented. Just leave me out, he grumbled.
The game was on. Frankie got them some stolen equipment, and it was set up quickly - inside walls from above the empty space in the building, inside ceilings and bathroom fixtures. All this done efficiently and quietly, when the family was out, or sleeping. Frankie knew how to get in and out of apartments with ease. It was how he made his living before joining the Mob. He taught them some of his best tricks. Jimmy remained indifferent to all this fuss. He didn t think much of the girl or the family, and as he listened to these stories with semi-interest
he became convinced that he had been right not to care. They were sick screwed up people with major weaknesses and shameful flaws. They were subhuman in Jimmy s eyes, although he would never admit this to himself or anyone else. Anyone who couldn t control his bodily functions or who could talk to themselves and refuse to leave their apartments out of fear had to be detestable. Why did God make such abysmal failures? Out of deference to the Marinos, Jim hid his feelings towards Tommy. far as the girl and her family went, they could go straight to hell. As
As the days and weeks went by, things became worse. The girl and her family would sometimes make comments on people, both in and out of the Mob, not realizing that they could be heard, and these remarks infuriated those who listened. They were out for blood now. They began to get kids involved, eager, energetic bold kids, who could stay up and all night and do whatever these men wanted. Gina became the sole and convenient target of their frustrations and cruelty, and unfortunately, her family suffered the same fate.
Sophia began to hang out exclusively with the guys who did these things to Gina and her family. They would tell her bits and pieces of what was happening, but they would never let her into their private domain. She was considered Frankie s main squeeze and one of their own. They loved Sophia. She entertained them with her bright gossip and conversations. They really loved her. But lately she had a hard time loving herself. She stayed home a lot during the day, only going out at night to hang with the crowd. She seldom ate dinner at home anymore. She didn t confide in her mother the way she used to. Sometimes Mrs Bruno would catch her crying. Sophia would shrug it off. She avoided bumping into Tommy. it was a dreaded occurrence. That was no longer a precious goal. Now
She could hardly look him in the face when she did see him. She never saw Gina anymore. She was thankful for that. She
Sophia started to use cocaine, something she swore she would never do. knew how it messed up your looks and ruined your nose.
Chapter 18 Tommy loved to bake and cook for friends and family. Today is baking day! He thought gleefully. He got out all the ingredients and proper tools for making a delicious apple crumb pie - his specialty - flour, eggs, water, sugar, cinnamon, he peeled and cored the apples - he felt like a king! Like a prize-winning chef. He loved to do this for people, this was something he was good at, this was how he showed his love when words failed him, as they often did. After some hours in the oven, the pies were done. apples and cinnamon filled his tiny apartment. He carefully removed the pies and let them cool. his friends. The aroma of baked
Now to get them ready for
Jimmy and Frank. He couldn t technically call them his best friends, but at least they were decent to him. They swore at him less than the others did - that was a plus - and they paid attention to him - another important point that never went unnoticed in Tommy s eyes. After the pies had cooled, he gently placed them in some pastry boxes he had taken from one of his uncle s shops. Did anybody see Jimmy and Frankie? building, boxes in his arms. Yeah, I think they re in the back, Hey. he asked as he stepped out of the
Tom stepped into the pool room.
Guys, I made you something.
Jim looked up. An attractive dark haired man of about 30, with a Roman profile and thick full lips. People knew Jimmy as an enforcer for the Marino family, a dangerous man, they said, although his reserved demeanor and gentlemanly manner fooled many people. He had a keen intelligence and loved to read. But around his friends, he would use the vernacular of the Mob. Hi, how s it going, kid? Good Jim, how is it with you? One day s pretty much like another Tom flushed. Jim always made him blush, he didn t know why.
Not too bad. Same here
Frankie came over. and hazel eyes.
He was a younger man of about 27, with curly brown hair
Tommy, what do you have there? Some pies. Great I gotta have some of this tonight Jimmy tapped the boxes and grinned, a dazzling display that almost took Tom s breath away. Sure. Hope you like it. turned and left the room. He put the boxes on the pool table and quickly He thought he heard laughter behind him. Apple
Later that night, much later, Thomas couldn t sleep. At 3:30 in the morning he kept checking the clock and plumping his pillow. He hated this time of the morning, for some reason, it always reminded him of bad things. He heard low murmuring voices and shuffling. He went over to the window and picked up the shade. One of the men huddled on the sidewalk looked a lot like Jim. He couldn t be sure. He squinted. Then he heard Frankie s high pitched voice: He gave us pies, man. He made them himself.
Tommy froze. His body turned cold and he felt suspended in time.
Another young man he didn t recognize said
You think you should eat them?
He heard Jim s voice, clear and smooth and beautiful I don t think I m gonna touch them. He probably puts his shit in them, who knows? I don t want to catch anything. They all laughed loudly. Thomas slowly sank to his knees. This was a familiar position for him.
An hour later he was found unconscious of an overdose of painkillers. His stomach had to be pumped. No one ever knew what he had overheard. He never told a soul . Chapter 19 Jackie. Come here quick! The young black haired man waved the heavyset older man over. Loony tunes is talking to herself again - the idiot Jackie, or JJ as he was known, ran over to the back room and ruffled a thick hand through his wiry gray mass of hair. He looked around and whispered, She s a kook, right, Ritchie? I mean, tell the truth. Richie snorted derisively. nut case. Yeah, you got that right. She s a certified
Jackie laughed too, but a vague feeling of unease washed over him. all this start?
Jackie the carpenter did odd jobs for the Marino family - carpentry, plumbing whatever they required. Good work if you could get it, he d say with a wink. He was a loyal friend to the Marino s, especially Dominic, smug about his position with the family, and a notorious gossip. The girl had been out of work for so long, it seemed, that they began to get curious. Always home. Walking with that proud walk of hers, head high, stiff, cool. Rico, Dom s older brother, had been standing near his doorstep, the building next to Gina s. He liked the girls Gina and Theresa , they were pretty - odd, quiet, but pretty. Good Catholic girls, he guessed. Rico smiled and nodded at Gina. He hadn t noticed the pain in her eyes. But then, who could notice these things? Aren t you working yet, honey? Gina suddenly felt like being flippant, why she would never understand.
She had always sensed a duplicity behind these men and their fatherly solicitous greetings. She had believed that they never really liked or welcomed her family. I m self employed, can t you see? into her building with a wave. She gave a knowing smile and vanished
That was the beginning of the end for this girl, as far as Jackie could tell. Sometimes, he thought, that s all it took for the mob to make your life miserable. A wrong word, a disrespectful answer, arousing suspicion, failure to pay homage. She had done all of that. Did they really believe this girl was working for the Feds? Jackie shook his head. She wasn t that smart or devious, thank God, or they all would have been royally screwed by now. He could hear her throaty voice rising and falling, and he turned away. used to like the kid. How quickly affection can become something else, something ugly and mean. He
She s singing again, Dom. Got a hell of a voice! spazzing all over the place. She s so funny!
Look at her!
Hey, she s cuckoo. The sterile cuckoo, that s what we call her around here Dominic laughed heartily and stirred the spaghetti sauce. He always made a huge pot of spaghetti or something home cooked for his brother Rico and the guys that hung out. Tell me, did we get lucky or what? Hours of entertainment. Better than HBO. And cheaper! Just don t tell your kid, Dom. Anthony warned. He might misunderstand, you know what I mean? Sometimes he has a big mouth, too, not for nothing No, I know, I know. Don t worry, Dom waved one hand in dismissal as he slowly stirred the thick tomato sauce, He ain t gonna know a thing. The less we say the better. You know, Dom, I think he may like this bitch. Anthony s best friend Mark spoke up from the back of the room, while leafing through a newspaper. You ve got to be kidding me! No, really, I mean, he mentioned her once or twice. For Tommy, that s gotta be close to love! Mark chuckled, and they all joined in. Yeah, well, discourage him. Tell him she s a lesbian, or mental or something - which may not be far from the truth. Again a hale of laughter. Dom snorted and pointed a finger at the door. If that kid of mine ever takes home a loser like that he s out of my life. I mean, he won t get a dime. Not even a friggin penny.
He s a good kid, Dom,
Anthony gently reminded him.
Yeah, yeah, he s a good kid, so what good does that do any of us? Huh? He s a bum, that s all he is. When is he gonna be a man? He s worthless to me, he got nothing to offer , nothing to say, he ain t strong, he ain t smart. All he s good for is running errands and being a lookout. That s it! You re too hard on him, Dom
Fuck you! Too hard on him! And what do you know about my kid and how to raise him, huh? Dom came dangerously close to Anthony, thrusting his face into the man s range of vision. This is my kid, and I raise him the way I want, I know what s best. I didn t mean nothing by it, Dominic, but the kid is like almost 25 years old now. So what? Dom bellowed loudly. stay that way, you understand? He s still under my control and he ll
Sure, alright. Sure.. Anthony sunk back in his chair and sighed deeply. So how s the sauce coming along? It s coming, it s coming. Dominic Marino was a short, husky man of about 60 with salt and pepper slicked back hair and a pugilist s nose. He strutted when he walked and his enemies liked to nickname him The Little Rooster. He was proud of his position in the neighborhood, as he was a generous and jovial man at times, passing out steaks and chickens to local families that were in need of a good meal. Yet his temper was legendary and his vicious tirades were much feared, even by the toughest wise guys. He was known as the Jekyll and Hyde of the Mob - playful and funny and benevolent when he wanted or needed to be, but displaying a cruel streak when things didn t go his way. And things were clearly not going his way lately. son Tommy. Not when it came to his
Chapter 21 Dominic sat alone in the dark, drinking his beer. My kid tried to kill himself. That wasn t the first time. His eyes burned and he rubbed them roughly. Where had he gone wrong? His parents had beaten them with sticks, spoons, anything they could get their hands on, just for breaking a house rule or wetting the bed, or answering back, and they grew up alright. That was what it was all about discipline. Dom and Rico s parents had been immigrants from Sicily, coming to America with less than a dime in their pockets. They worked hard, saved their money, bought up real estate and store front property and scrubbed and cleaned and fixed them until they were like new. His mother and father were both shrewd business people, never giving anybody a break, always making a profit. Yet the 2 boys worshipped their parents. Especially Mama. A dark Sicilian beauty, she had toughened and hardened at a young age. Her marriage at 14 to a controlling abusive man almost killed her both in body and spirit. Her family knew of this and begged her to accept it. She knew she could either fight back or wither and die. She choose to fight back. She bribed local Mafia hoodlums to help her, and soon the matter was resolved. The man was gone for good. She remarried at 16 to their dad, a wiry, leather-faced, cigar smoking man of 25 - his face already parched and old from the sun. He was a smart man with a nasal sing song voice. Together they decided to come to America. Not soul mates, hardly that, but still comfortable with each other. They both worshipped money and power and had a respect for each other s native
intelligence At first they lived in cold dark They had been forbidden to talk girls, even into their teens, so groping and touching each other, they could. flats, the boys had to share a single bed. about or associate with neighborhood much of their youth was spent furtively finding what little pleasure and affection
The Catholic religion meant very little to Dominic and Rico, they just went along to please their parents. They would bow and kneel and kiss Jesus feet and go to Mass, then run out to join their young friends, boys who hung with the Mafia big shots and did errands for them. Dom and Rico rose to power swiftly and by the age of 25 and 32, respectively, they were well ensconced in the life of the Mob. They bought their mom and dad a beautiful home in the country, cars, anything they ever wanted. They took over their parents businesses and property and used it to further their ambitions in the Mob. Rico remained single even at 40, squiring pretty young women around town, buying them furs, and jewelry Dominic needed to settle down. He wanted a family, someone to come home to. He found Lucy, a curvaceous blonde, an opinionated sociable woman who had already been divorced once and didn t want to go through that again. They courted briefly, a fiery push and pull, on and off dance that aroused Dominic s baser instincts. They would yell and hit and then make up, with passionate kisses.
He loved her.
She was his soul mate, his match.
They found out they couldn t have kids of their own. Dominic was sterile. Lucy would throw this up to him whenever they had one of their vicious fights. He felt like less of a man. They stopped making love, and his bellicose manner became even worse. They adopted 2 unrelated little boys, light haired light eyed angels. This was Dom s idea, because he wanted them to look like Lucy, even though her hair color was from a bottle, and because he had always loved blonde blue eyed people. Lucy would tell her friends how her sons were the most important people in her life and that adopting them had been the best thing she had ever done.
Where had it all gone wrong? He pushed the beer can away with a sigh, stood up and walked over to the window. Never a man to question himself or analyze his motives, Dominic sunk into a depression. He believed in action not feelings. I m gonna toughen that sonofabitch if it takes me the rest of my life, he promised himself. That s all Tommy needed - to be strong, to face life, to develop a thicker skin. Wasn t he doing that for him, wasn t he teaching him that?
Chapter 22 Jim had his memories, none of them good. He remembered walking into the crowded tiny smelly apartment that he shared with his brothers, sisters and mother. It had been a tough day at school, another day when the kids would snicker behind his back and he would strain to control his temper. Another day of watching his mother dress and get ready for her first job of the night, spraying that awful perfume that he hated. It always made him choke. Ma, do you have to wear that? I hate that smell.
I know, but it s my favorite flower. Roses. You know that, Jimmy. She patted him on the shoulder. Don t wait up for me, go to bed early, you have school tomorrow, okay?
Yeah, right Jimmy was a whiz in school, his mind alert and facile, picking up facts and figures with ease and remembering them quickly. Yet he hated school. He hated the kids. He hated the teachers, telling him what to do, using sarcasm and put downs as a way to control and teach. Jimmy burned inside with a barely contained anger that never seemed to leave him. It was a constant companion. Pain, hurt, these were not familiar concepts to Jimmy. Rather he would take the pain and the hurt the pain of his father s early death, the pain of taking care of his brothers and sisters at a young age, of being laughed at for one reason or another - he would take this pain and he would let it congeal inside him. It would take form and grow and develop a life of its own, until it was no longer pain and hurt. It would become a cold hard substance - a rage unlike any other. Yes, Jimmy knew at a young age what rage was and what it could do. It would make you throw temper tantrums and yell and scream and throw things and be nasty. IT could be hot and boiling and explode, it could quickly evaporate. Yet Jimmy also knew a different kind of feeling. Like a cancer in your brain that infected everything you thought and said and did. Twisting your feelings into knots, making you imagine doing the worst things in the world to anybody who even slightly pissed you off. Jim remembered. He was only 12 but he remembered thinking that he had to deal with this. This extra arm, this third leg that kept tripping him up and made movement impossible. He would go to Father O Brien. Jimmy liked Father O Brien. He didn t like the Irish, though, because of what his mother used to tell him. How they treated the Italians like dirt, called them ginneys , and competed for every precious job. But Father O Brien was alright. Jimmy would ask for his help and his blessings. Jimmy remembered that eventful day. Jim stepped into the church. This was a place he truly loved, with smells he adored. Bringing up ancient memories he swore were real. Days gone by when perhaps he was a monk in the 1600 s or when he walked with Jesus as one of his followers. Jim liked to imagine these images were real. He smiled and genuflected. He breathed in the smell of candle wax and incense and holy sacred things.
Father O Brien came from behind the altar and spotted Jimmy. Jimmy waved. Father Kevin, as he asked the boys to call him, was a jovial red haired priest with freckles and a youthful grin. He had a belly and loved his beer. He would tell Jimmy that he would never give the beer up, not even for Lent - then he would wink and give him a nudge. Now he strode over, light on his feet for a man so chubby.
Hello there, Jimmy! Did you want to talk? Sure Father Father Kevin knew the boy to be troubled by many things, although he wasn t much of a talker. Not due to shyness, but rather uneasiness at expressing himself. Perhaps he barely understood or could verbalize his own feelings. This would be difficult to deal with but not impossible. Father was above all else an eternal optimist. Father led James into his rectory office. sit down son Jimmy looked all around as he sat, looking at the huge wooden rosary that hung from a blue and white statue of Blessed Mother. One of his favorite statues. He loved Blessed Mother - he believed she always looked down on us and helped us. This felt comforting to Jimmy, the only comfort he would get. So then, what would you like to talk about? Taking in the sights and sounds and awesome majesty of statues and various religious icons and relics, Jim felt peaceful and blessed. Suddenly he blurted out, What is it like to be a priest? Father Kevin drew back in his chair. Well, it s - it s awesome, Jimmy. It s beautiful. You feel close to God, you get to pray for people and help them. So you feel special? Like God chose you and loves you the best?
Well actually, Jim, God loves all of us. But yes, in a way a priest is chosen. Men and women are chosen by God to become priests and nuns. This
is considered their calling. Father I Jimmy struggled for the right words.
I just want to be happy. Father Kevin felt tears in his eyes. He blinked them away.
Surely, James, God can bring you this happiness. If you turn to Him, follow His commandments, show him proper love and respect, your life will change. YOU will change. Are you sure? I m positive,son So when - when kids call you names, or you get pissed off about something, do you do what Jesus says? Let it go? Turn the other cheek, yes, Jimmy. As often and as best as you can. Now I m not saying you have to be perfect, mind you, but ask God for help with this. You may need it! Father Kevin grinned. Forgive them. Always choose love over hate. How, Father? Does anybody have a book of instructions I can read? laughed nervously but he was sincere. Jim Jim looked puzzled.
Father Kevin laughed too, but inside he felt uneasy. He knew these pat answers would never be enough. But what could he say to this growing, challenging mystery that sat before him? We were all mysteries, and none of us or our problems could be addressed and fixed so quickly and simply. Kevin knew the frustration of his calling. He leaned forward. Son, you are special. Just remember that. God loves you, temper or not. God still loves you. Even if the whole world hates you and makes fun of you, God is still there for you. Always Jim thought about this for a while. nice. Then he smiled. That s - that s
Let the others call you names, Jim. Just let it go, let it fall off your shoulders. In one ear and out the other, I always say. Ask God to give you the strength you need to deal with it. With all of life s problems.. He ll even help you control your temper if you ask Him!
Good Jim still looked skeptical but he managed another smile. Father Kevin winked. So do you feel better at all? Have I helped?
Sure. Sure Jim would go home now and face another day of dirty dishes and laundry and brothers and sisters that needed attention. Another day of watching his mom get ready for work and waiting for the time when she would return. Waiting for her embrace and a word that she was always too tired to give him.
Thinking about God was always so good someplace like here, but once you got home and had to face your life all over again, it wasn t so good. Why was it so hard, why did it seem so empty? Jim reached out and took Father Kevin s outstretched handshake. He stood up and walked Jimmy to the door. let me know if there s anything else I can do for you Can you take it all away, Father? Can you make it go away? my life, my awful headaches, my sadness? I ll let you know, thanks Can you change
Jim stepped out from the cool dark peace into the glaring warm sunshine. It was almost summer time. The end of school.
He saw a limousine with darkened windows drive slowly by. HE knew it was the men his mother had warned him to stay away from - men in expensive suits, wearing huge rings, smelling of fancy cologne. Some of them smoked cigars and swore all the time. Jimmy thought they looked cool. At least they dressed good. He liked that. And people seemed to respect them. Jim had some money in an old frayed wallet that he carried. His mother always gave him an allowance so he could buy what they needed - milk, bread, eggs. He guarded this wallet dutifully, never losing it or forgetting it. He knew how hard she worked for her money. As he walked down the street, 2 young guys in blue jeans and jackets bumped
right into him. Jim felt his anger rise in his throat. They were so much bigger than him. At least they could say they were sorry. He glared at them but knew better and kept walking. circled him, spying his wallet in his back pocket. You got something there, kid? Jim was confused yet ready for a fight. like second nature to him. Always ready to do battle. IT was They turned and
What do you punks want? Your money, asshole. No way. I need it. Give it up Get lost
He trembled not with fear but with anticipation and the thought of losing his mother s allowance. They pushed him against the wall and one punched him hard in the stomach. His breath came out and he doubled over. Give us the fucking money, jerk
Father Kevin s church was close by, but Jimmy felt no comfort. He prayed quickly to God and Blessed Mother to help him, prayed that they would go away and leave him his money. They could easily have taken it off him by now, Jim felt some hope in this. They hadn t done that yet. They then took the wallet out of Jimmy s pocket. They kept punching him hard, on his face and his stomach, kicking his legs. He would not cry out. Father Kevin ran down the street toward Jimmy. you doing? You boys, there! What are
At the same time, the limousine cruised by, a beautiful sight, shining and glinting in the hard sunshine. Father Kevin got close enough to see it was Jimmy. boys, let him go. I insist. His eyes widened. You
One of the boys turned and punched the priest in the face. The blow knocked Father Kevin to his knees. He did not rise up nor did he protest. A man got out of the limo - a well dressed gentleman with salt and pepper hair, a cigar dangling from his lips. His cologne preceded him. He had 2 other men with him - younger and stronger looking. For all his age and diminutive size, this man seemed the leader. He grabbed one of the boys by the neck and squeezed hard. The boy screamed in pain. He flung him aside. One of the other men grabbed another kid who was punching Jimmy and took him by the hair, pummeling him until he too was on the ground.
The boys rose, saw the men, and fled. The smaller well dressed man helped Father Kevin to his feet. He was bleeding a little from his mouth He saw who these men were and he hesitated. Jim - are you alright? Yeah - I m fine Father. Jimmy felt surreal, as though he had just witnessed an epic struggle between good and evil, an ancient timeless battle. He saw now the way the world operated on some intrinsic, supernatural level. Jimmy knew these punks might have done some serious damage if the wise guys hadn t shown up when they did. Jim was sure of this one fact. They knew just what to do. Deal with punks the way you re supposed to. On their level. You have to be like them and think like them to deal with them. Right now Jimmy felt old and wise and he almost felt sorry for Father Kevin, in his dusty cassock.. He felt as though he now were the older of the two, and had lived the longer. Little did Jimmy know - he would never know - how much effort it had taken Father Kevin to resist hitting those boys and beating them into pulps. He had been a boxer when he was younger, and he still remembered a few moves. But he chose not to do that. He would NOT have let them beat Jimmy, surely that was not God s will. But he knew he would have done something. He was convinced of this. Now all that remained a thankful mystery of supposition to ponder. For these men had come along, perhaps in answer to his prayers. Or were they? Would God answer Father Kevin s prayers in
such a manner? Father Kevin saw the gleam in Jimmy s eyes, the respect and esteem which he now held for these men, the sheer gratitude. He shuddered and shook the men s hands. They contributed mightily to the church coffers every week, and for that Father Kevin was eternally grateful. It was a strange world we lived in, rarely black and white, just shades of gray. At least for today. Father smiled and said, Jimmy, do you need any help? No, I m fine, Father. Are you sure? We ll take care of it, Father, thank you Dismissed politely yet firmly, Father felt shame well up in him. Respected as a man of God, given proper protection and credit, he was nonetheless seen as relatively worthless when push came to shove. Your services no longer required, thank you very much, Father. Come to think of it, they didn t do much good in the first place. Did Father Kevin dislike so much what these men stood for and did, or rather for how impotent and useless they made him feel?
He walked back to the rectory, his eyes brimming with tears. Did I do any good today, Father in Heaven? He would never know but this day had been a turning point for Jimmy. Because of a combination of events, none of which Father Kevin could have foreseen - a dead father, a poor family, a stolen wallet, and a shiny bright limousine - this boy s life would soon take an unalterable, unexpected and permanent route.
The men took the boy home in style. Ralph Guisto took the boy under his wing. He became his father, his teacher, and his role model. Ralph taught Jimmy how to dress, how to think, to walk and talk. He also cautioned Jimmy about the perils of Mafia life. Women were easy to get. He advised Jim to stay away. Don t get caught in the trap. Besides avoiding jail at all costs, a smart guy in the life avoided entanglements with women. Ralphie extolled the virtues and pleasures of the single life. No involvements, no pressures, no hassles. He would date, take a nice lady out to dinner or a movie, then he would return to his apartment and be alone. Peaceful. Safe. The only woman in his life was his mother. He liked it that way. What harm could a mother do? If you are going to need a woman, Jim, Ralph cautioned, get married, have the kids, do the whole nine yards. For the sake of propriety, to procreate, to look good. That was it. Remember, women were a man s biggest weakness and potentially his worst nightmare. Jim did remember this. He only married - twice - to have sex and to have children. Then he was done with it. They were of no further use to him
emotionally. He would remain loyal to his wife, bring her flowers, give her an occasional kiss. But something inside him had closed the door and died. For Jimmy, the woman would forever remain a figurehead and nothing more, more important for what she represented than for what she meant to him. No longer real or substantial. shared his livelihood. Never as real as the men with whom he
He told them things he would never tell his wife.
He showed them a side he could never let her see. Jimmy liked it this way. That was his life.
Chapter 24 Jimmy had to kill his best friend by the time he was 20. The friend had stolen some drug money from the Mob, and Jim knew that was unforgivable. A hothead, a lover of fashion, luxury and working out, Jim valued his friendships and never took them lightly. Still he would learn the hard way that even friends had to die when the Mob had been betrayed. This thing of ours comes first. This had been drummed into his brain by Ralph. Jim, he has to go. He has to. Ralphie said gently, putting a hand on Jim s shoulder, You want to live the life? You want what we can offer? Ralph Guisto knew that Jim had come from a poor family on the wrong side of town. They had been laughed at for wearing broken down shoes, patched up clothes, and being perpetually dirty and grimy. They had an old rusty bathtub that leaked and a boiler that never worked right and no heat.
He knew that Jimmy saw his dad die of a massive heart attack after working 3 shifts in a factory. His mother took care of all 5 kids by herself, young and hungry and wild, all of them a handful. She worked 2 jobs just
to get by. Because Jim was the oldest, he ended up taking care of his 4 siblings - 2 boys and 2 girls. He was bossy, strict and harsh - yet he could be fun, too - playing games with them way into the night, reading them stories and making them snacks. Jim always took 2 showers a day once he got his own apartment. He became a fanatic about cleanliness. He despised anyone that he felt was unclean or anyone who had grown up having things handed to them. Jim had a hatred of poverty, a love of money and all that it could buy and a commanding authoritative presence. He had to be the boss, he had to lead. His ambition knew no bounds. He revealed another side in his artwork, sketching portrait after portrait of old men and women, innocent children, and pretty old fashioned women with long flowing dresses - a fantasy of his from long ago. He d be the knight in shining armour, she would be his damsel in distress, his hard-earned fair lady. He soon found out she didn t exist. At least not the way he had imagined her. Jim got married to a neighborhood girl at 19, separated by 20. He had married her just like Ralph had advised him to, so he could have sex. His rigid Catholic upbringing had made him prudish and conservative about many things. This often times clashed with his powerful macho sexuality. He remarried at 25 to a classy dark haired young woman with gentle manners and a good upbringing. His best friend - Bobby - best man at his first wedding, friend since grade school -the big grin, the freckles, the crazy laugh and the silly jokes. Bobby never once laughed at his hand me downs. None of that seemed to matter with Bobby. How could Jim ever forget? You just had to put it behind you, wise guys told him. But he knew better.
Bobby s face would come into his head at night, sometimes smiling, sometimes mournful. His mouth moving the way it did the night he died, nothing coming out, no sound. Jim began to take pills so he could sleep. Then he needed pills to keep him awake. Soon he was doing cocaine and other drugs. Just to get by, he d say.
He learned the lingo of the Mob, the curses and phrases that he had never liked, but he knew were somehow required, as essential to the life as breathing. He had never gone to Marquis De Sade, the kinds. He found out had to make your own college, but he loved to read - Machiavelli, the Art of War, Plato, philosophies and religions of all one important truth - No one had all the answers. You as you went along. No one ever got close
Jimmy never had a best friend again after Bobby. enough. He made sure of that.
Chapter 25 Thomas never really had a way with kids. He was too self conscious, too dumbstruck by their naked honesty and emotions. But kids seemed to like him, much to his delight. He, in turn, treated them with gentle respect and compassion, giving them the kind of attention usually reserved for wise adults. Jim s youngest boy Stephen often stopped by to see Dad after school. He had serious chocolate brown eyes and coal-black hair, like his father. He spoke in a quiet voice, hardly above a whisper, and clung to Thomas as soon as he saw him. Tommy would often taken Stephen for a ride in his Jeep or take him to his apartment to see his pets - two hamsters, some goldfish, and a parakeet. Tom didn t want to have any cats or dogs living there because the apartment was so tiny. Hi, Tommy! Stephen waved from across the street. He stood next to his dad and Tom thought he looked extra small and helpless just then. He waved back. Hey, kid! Can I come see your hamsters? Sure. If it s okay with Dad.
Yeah, go ahead, just don t get lost.
Jim smiled and winked at Stephen.
Stephen ran over to him, breathless and excited. Can I see your pictures, too? Tommy loved to draw cartoons of pigs and squirrels, cows and other animals. Sure Maybe I can draw you one today. Awesome with you. Stephen whispered, looking back at his father. I like staying
Tom held the apartment door open and ushered Stephen inside. The little boy ran over to the hamster cage, running his fingers along the edge, cooing and murmuring to the little animals. Can I hold them?
Tom opened the cage door and gently grasped one of the hamsters, a chubby black and white one. He held it out to Stephen s waiting cupped hands. Be careful now, don t squeeze him Okay. Yeah. Stephen held him. The other one is Guy Is this one Buddy?
Awesome Stephen whispered again, rubbing his nose against the hamster s fur. He held one then the other. After he was done, he ran over to the bird cage What s his name? Pete Cute name
He looks like a Pete
Tommy went into the kitchen and took out a plate of cookies he had made earlier that morning. You want any milk with these? Sure! Stephen plopped on the sofa and grabbed 2 cookies. Thomas sat down next to Stephen and switched on the TV. These are good, the boy said with his mouth full. Thanks, Stephen Stephen would let out a high pitched laugh whenever something struck him as
funny on the TV, and Tommy would smile. Suddenly the boy turned beet red and said softly, his lap. Uh-oh. Looking down at
are you okay? Thomas sat up straight. I think - I think I did something Tom looked down and he smelled rather than saw the problem. felt a familiar wave of compassion. Let s get you cleaned up, ok, kiddo? Stephen stared at him in wonder. You re not mad? No way. You just need to be cleaned, that s all. He led the boy into the bathroom
You had an accident.
You want me to help?
No, I can take off my own pants and stuff. I ll get you some towels and some soap and water.
Okay. Stephen was still red and trembling. He stepped out of his pants and underwear and gingerly tossed them in the corner of the bathroom. Tommy got a basin from under the sink, then stopped. take a shower, Stephen? Or a bath? Naw, I ll be okay. Would you rather
Tom filled up the basin with hot soapy water, then got some towels. He stopped and smiled. It s okay, Stephen. No problem. I wish Dad felt that way. Tommy held a wet soapy towel out. You want me to leave? You can stand outside if you want. He heard the boy s voice from behind the door. Sometimes when I have an accident like this, Dad - he gets really mad - I mean , he goes crazy. Calls me a pig, and a baby. Tommy flushed. happen You re not a pig or a baby, no way. Sometimes things just
The boy fell silent.
What am I gonna do with my dirty clothes? I ll rinse them out and then put them in the washing machine and the dryer. Won t take too long. What if Dad s looking for me? Stephen s voice rose in a panic. I ll just tell him you took a nap. Don t - don t tell Dad about this. Please Tom, you won t will you? Thomas felt tears springing to his eyes and he quickly blinked. I ll never tell anyone, Stephen. Don t worry. Thanks. I m all done. No way!
He wrapped Stephen in a huge clean towel and rinsed out his clothes and threw them in the machine. You re awesome, Tommy Stephen whispered, wrapping the towel tight around him and grabbing another cookie with his free hand. So are you, kiddo Tom grabbed a cookie himself to cover his embarrassment. Just then the boy s towel slid off onto the floor, leaving him almost naked. It was then that Frankie Dee silently walked into the apartment. He had knocked but no one answered. Maybe they couldn t hear over the blare from the TV. Frank looked around the room, and then at the boy, and then at Tommy. His eyes stared with a strange gleam. Frankie was used to getting in and out of apartments with silent grace, he had once been a first-rate burglar before joining the Mob. He crept backwards towards the door, opened it and slithered out as quietly as he had come in. The boy popped the rest of the cookie in his mouth. Do you like Dad, Tommy? Tom s memory flashed back to that morning when he had overdosed. Yeah, he s a pretty good guy. Let s check on those clothes He clapped his hands together. He glanced over his shoulder at the raucous TV show and grinned. You like this stuff, huh? Yeah, all the kids at school watch it. Dad hates it Thomas poured himself a cup of coffee and stirred in cream and sugar. He
checked the clothes, saw that they were done, and threw them in the dryer. He felt exhilarated. It was going to be a great day after all.
I knew there was something about that kid. He never had a girl in his life, never even looks at women. Fucking freak. Jimmy, calm down! Wrong? I m just telling you what I saw, I could be wrong. Explain that to me.
My kid had no goddamn clothes on.
Ask your kid what happened? Like he s gonna fuckin tell me! Jim had a violent temper, hot and explosive even in the best of times. Frankie knew he had to do something. Jim, wait. Just wait a minute. Let s go to Dom.
And then what? The old man will slap him around, slap him on the wrist, SO WHAT? HUH, FRANKIE? Jim s face was contorted and ugly with rage I gotta do something about this. He slammed his fist down on the table over and over. Don t you understand? I do, just wait. dad. Wait. Ask your kid. Stephen will tell you, you re his
Frankie was beginning to panic. What had he done? He resented Thomas, behind his toothy grins and friendly conversation a part of him secretly hated the proud, almost arrogant walk, the cool demeanor, who did he think he was? The kid shit his pants for Chrissake! He had no right, no reason to be proud. And yet Frankie didn t want this to get out of hand. He grimaced. That smelly dirty sonofabitch. He makes me sick. He always made me sick. I just had to keep quiet about it because of his family Jimmy
paced up and down Let s go talk to Dom
and now this.
He glared at Frank.
Jimmy fell silent and stopped pacing. He stared at the wall, at a space somewhere that only he could see, his eyes glazed over and bloodshot. Was he doing coke again, Frankie wondered With his temperament, that s all they needed, it was like lighting a gasoline tank. He put his hand up after what seemed like forever. I don t want anyone to know about this, understand? He turned back to Frankie, his eyes clear. Frank saw he was using the sharp, manipulative brilliance that had made him top enforcer in the Mob. Cunning. Clever. He could hide his feelings when he needed to, pretend he was your best friend, then boom you d be dead. His voice turned quiet, polite and calm. was deadlier than his temper. Let s wait, Frankie, okay? Got it? Frankie knew that in a way this
Let s just keep this to ourselves.
Dominic had had enough. His desire to control and manage his son boiled over into something resembling rage, and no matter how much pain it inflicted, it had to be done. Nip it in the bud before it got out of hand, he reasoned, the girl would be moving out soon anyway. Hey, Tommy get over here! Dominic called to his son.
Thomas obediently left his spot on the corner where he chatted with one of Dad s friends, a bald older man in an expensive suit. Yeah, Dad? Tom waited.
Come in here, I want to show you something. Dom led Thomas to another room, way in the back of the building, hidden by a maze of corridors and rooms. Thomas glanced around. What s this? This is something you don t tell nobody. know about it. You understand? Tom nodded and swallowed hard and coughed. Come here, sit down. Dominic pulled up a chair and switched on what looked like a small TV. The images were black and white, and Tom saw Dad fiddling with the dials. You see this? to Rico s? This is that broad in building 210. You know the one next Just the people in this room
Yeah, I think so. her on TV?
Thomas felt dizzy and weak.
were they watching
You think so? You know this girl! named Terry. A pretty redhead.
She got a sister
Yeah, Dad, I know Thomas felt waves of nausea overtake him and he put a hand to his forehead. So what s all this about? Why is she on surveillance? Dominic smiled. Because she pissed us off that s why. Because she never works or leaves that apartment, AND because she s a freak. You
understand, son? Dom put his hand on his son s shoulder. grimaced. She s a loser, Tom, she ll be gone pretty soon. them out. Eviction, baby! He gave a nasty laugh.
Thomas We re throwing
Dad you don t think she s doing anything up there that we should know about Well, we sure as hell intend to find out. Anyway, it s fun to watch the little nitwit do her thing. She s a nut, I tell you. Thomas stared at the screen. Gina was undressing slowly, staring in the mirror, turning this way and that, picking up her breasts with her hands, smoothing hands over thighs. Then she made a face and an exasperated noise of disapproval, and turned from the mirror. Her figure - rounded and pale on the video - looked so young and helpless. Thomas felt like putting a blanket around her or a robe. He turned his face. Never show Dad weakness, Tom. Never show it. He knew if he did Dad would berate him mercilessly. Dominic nudged him. Terrible shape she s in, huh, Tommy? pepperoni and sausage she s been sneaking late at night. Thomas winced. That s all the He snorted.
Hey Marco, Anthony, Jackie come in, here, have a seat, watch the show! Thomas looked up to see his father s friends approaching. He smiled thinly and returned their handshakes. So you finally got Tommy to see the action, huh, Dom? What does he think?
I don t know, ask him Dom looked at his son with a laser beam stare. Thomas s eyes flickered away then back again. It s alright, I guess. Yeah, sure, Anthony thumped him on the back, you like this girl, huh, kid? You see her in all her glory, acting like a screwball, she ain t so hot, right? She ain t even worth a second look. Dominic beamed. Anthony had said just what he wanted him to say. seemed puzzled. Screwball? What did they mean? She undressed and lay down, that was all. Thomas
Then Thomas saw. Her mouth moving, her arms gesturing wildly, she was engaging in a deep conversation with someone, but she was the only one there. Then another camera followed her as she went into the kitchen . She went back into the bedroom and sat on the bed, transfixed. She said
something softly, it sounded like
God help me
She lay back on the bed for a long time, her arms crossed over her chest. Thomas held his breath. He saw her body shake. She was crying. See what I mean, kid? A fucking weirdo. No wonder why she doesn t work.
Thomas flushed. Well, if you knew that, then why do you still videotape her and listen to her? Because it s fun? Thomas stood up. Mark spat out sarcastically. Thomas glared at him.
Listen, guys, I gotta go, I got errands to do. This is more important. Dad, please. Sit down.
Dominic stood up too. Thomas stared at him. I said sit down.
Watch the show.
Thomas stayed and watched for hours with his father and his father s friends. People came and went - even his old pals Frankie and Jim seemed to know about this secret room and what went on. The guys felt closer to him now he could tell. Slapping him on the back, hugging him, sharing stories with him. He wanted them to like him so much, he needed their approval and love. As he basked in the glow, something felt wrong. Sick. Shameful. He knew. It was glaring him in the face. But he could never say it, he could never reveal his true feelings. Thomas left late that night, went back to his apartment, and threw up.
Chapter 28 Gina stood by the sink, talking to her mom about clothes and men and how to look good even though you were 20 pounds overweight. They laughed and shared ideas and stories. Her mom left to go downtown shopping, as was her usual routine every
Gina stayed home to clean and make some coffee.
An eccentric red headed woman from down the street had once given Mrs. Carelli a bottle of white wine, made by monks in Italy. They had all loved the wine so much that they continued to buy it. Gina and Mr. Carelli were really the only ones in the family who drank at all. Mrs. Carelli did not know, nobody did, how Gina would drink the sweet amber wine during the day when she was alone, and how this had become a daily habit. Maria blamed the disappearance of the wine on her husband, and left it at that. As she dusted the furniture in her mom and dad s bedroom, and polished the mirror, she heard teenage voices laughing outside on the street. She didn t pay attention, the street she lived on was noisy and busy with traffic and people coming and going. But this time was different. She heard bits of conversation that struck her speechless and left her shaking. Yeah, so she said to her mom, Ma, I m 20 pounds overweight, where am I ever gonna find clothes that make me look good? and her mother said, Did you ever think of trying to lose the weight?
The two girls giggled and kept walking. Gina rushed to the window in time to see two school age girls drifting by, walking close to each other and laughing. She turned away and sat on her mother s bed. What is going on? Can I be dreaming? That was what me and Ma were just talking about. My God! Then it hit her. Stabbed her in the face, the back, the stomach. betrayal so strong, so fierce that it left her breathless. A
Oh my God, she moaned out loud. All the things we said in here, all the personal private things. She began to cry. She quickly grabbed a pen and paper and wrote things down for her mother to see. Mustn t let them know you heard, Gina. You hear me? You have to keep quiet. She paced up and down like a restless panther, not knowing yet that they could also see her every move and gesture. I have to warn my family, she thought, down, Gina, write everything down. I have to let them know. Write it
Gina s plan would soon fail.
Chapter 29 Gina cried, deep shaking sobs. The kids were taunting from outside again, from the alleyway behind her building, calling out names, ordering them to move out. Her mom, dad and sister became sick from the stress. Terry would throw up and Mom would have nosebleeds. Dad got chest pains that came and went. Dom knew the whole thing had gotten out of hand. Once you have drug addicts and teenagers involved that was bound to happen. He shrugged and sighed. They d be out of there soon. Maybe the whole family would move to Hawaii. He chuckled under his breath. Thomas burst into his father s office.
A huge bodybuilder type stood close to his dad, talking when Tom came in. Dad we have to talk What the fuck do you think you re doing? voice. Dad, please - now! Thomas sat down and turned his face to the wall. and said, I ll see you later, Dom. The bodybuilder shrugged Dom asked in a strangely quiet
Dom waved him away. He glared across the table at his son. So talk The family in 210, the girl Gina - and Terry - and - they know, Dad, they know! Tom s voice rose. And what is this with the kids listening in? I thought it was just us. I mean, that s bad enough but now it s like - the whole friggin neighborhood! Things got out of hand, the guys told their kids, the kids told their friends, Tommy, these kids, they work for us too. It ain t like they re strangers. No one s gonna talk to the Feds, believe me. When is this going to stop, Dad? When they move. Help them find a place. Please. Preferably one without video cameras and microphones. Tom stood up angrily. Listen, you sonofabitch. Dom stood up too. Dad I like this girl. I like this family. Tommy blurted out, surprising himself. He stopped and looked around. They don t deserve this. No one does. No one does. Listen to this will you? Dom addressed the walls sarcastically. Listen to this saint, here, this priest. Holier than thou bullshit. He turned back to Tommy with fire in his eyes. WE decide who deserves what. This ain t a social club, did you know that? Are you aware of that? We aren t an order of monks. The Mob operates under its own rules and laws, you understand? He thrust his finger into his son s face and raised his voice. We call the shots, we make the rules. We answer to no one. Understand? He breathed heavily and stared at his son for a moment or two, then he said in a quieter tone, Let me tell you something else, Tommy. Dom twisted the knife in even deeper. This bitch has a crush on you. Did you know that? Thomas stared at him, his eyes open with something like horror. He could hardly breathe and tears came to his eyes. He didn t even try to blink them away.
And I ll tell you one more thing, while I m at it. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. We do this to more than one family. He nodded and said in a mocking voice, Oh yeah! Fine upstanding people, what a shame! He put his hands together in a prayer position. Father, forgive me for I know not what I do. He laughed bitterly. Thomas felt like getting violent for the first time in his life. His breathing was labored and heavy, his chest burned, his eyes stinging. And you know what, Tommy boy? These people, they ain t even worth your pity. You know that? They re pigs, they re freaks, you should see the things they do behind closed doors, I ll tell you he shook his head in amazement. Tommy stormed out and slammed the door behind him.
Thomas furiously scribbled a note to his parents, figuring it to be his last. He crumpled it up and threw it in the wastebasket. Nothing could ever express how he felt. The years of shame, of agony, of self-loathing. The humiliation. The look in that girl s eyes, the way she had tried to hold her head up as she walked down the street one day with her mom, when she saw Tom she froze and turned her face. He wanted to reach out, to hold her hand, take her away from all this. God, she must hate them. She must hate him now too. He had to save her. That save . He couldn t stand family. All the families Beginning and ending with was the way Thomas kept thinking, not help, but by and do nothing. He had to save her and her like Gina s, but especially Gina. All for Gina. those sad brown eyes.
Chapter 31 Mrs. Carelli was furious. Mr. Carelli begged her to stop, let s just move out. She would not, could not, accept this betrayal quietly. Even Gina begged her to reconsider. She was angry, hurt, yet deep inside terrified. Her fear of going out became worse. Much worse. Maria Carelli began to say things out loud in their apartment, along with a furious yet deadly calm Theresa . Nothing too inflammatory. But pointed, searing, bitter remarks. They hit their intended targets. Outside the taunting began. Slow and steady, then increasing in intensity and volume at night. Kids yelling insults, answering their statements and questions with impudent defiance. No police ever came by. Then came worse. They began commenting on everything that had been going on inside the house, letting the Carellis know in no uncertain terms that they had been able to SEE them as well. Gina had excessive crying jags and mood swings, alternately she would be nervous and scared and then talkative and wild. Terry would throw up and have migraines. She needed to take sick days from work, something she had never done before. The police had been called, they would come, but nothing was ever done. No evidence found, no one believed. Patronizing, slightly bemused expressions and smiles. We need proof, ma am, these are probably just kids being fresh and playing with your heads. Pay no attention Terry got the distinct and sickening feeling that they had been paid off by the Marinos, and paid off well. No one else in the neighborhood ever complained about these incidents or even reported them. Bennett Street was their private domain, their playground. The neighborhood belonged to them as well.
A confrontation came sooner than expected, only it was disappointing and anti-climactic at best. Mrs. Carelli walked over to Rico Marino s building next door, Gina in tow. She had insisted that Gina come with her, and Gina s pride got the best of her. She would NOT let these people win. They approached the building, saw an open door, a kitchen - and Tommy Marino, sitting at a table. Mrs. Carelli began to ascend the stairs. Gina backed down was eating something, serious and intent.. Then Tommy saw them. the stairs. He
He started and dropped what he was eating.
You tell your goddamn father and uncle and their punks that if this bullshit continues there s going to be serious trouble. Do you understand me? Her voice was unnaturally shrill and full of venom. Gina had never heard her like that. Her eyes filled with tears. And Tommy. His expression was so sad, so scared. She grabbed her mother s arm. Ma, please, let s go, okay?
Tommy raised his hands to his head and shuddered. Poor Gina. The look on her face . He choked back his own tears. And Mrs. Carelli was so full of hate.
They were gone in a matter of seconds.
Chapter 32 The war of words had taken a desperate turn. Gina was never one to keep quiet for long. She had begun to answer the taunting and the remarks, she had begun to taunt back and let them know in no uncertain terms that what they were doing was wrong and sick and disgusting. Mrs. Carelli knew this was getting to her, she could see the nervous energy and the pacing up and down, could see the strange and unnatural excitement in the household. It was like living in an alternate universe, a world of their own, that made no sense and had no rules, nothing to hold on to. Just a crazy life of its own.
Maria had tried to get apartments in 3 different places, but all of her attempts were rejected. The landlord and landladies cooly yet politely told them they could not give them rooms. Mrs. Carelli had the distinct feeling that they knew the Marinos and had been told not to help the family out. Looking out of town would be difficult because none of the family owned or drove a car. Yet Maria knew if this had to be done she would do it. They would manage. Mr. Carelli and Theresa both had jobs here and everything they loved and needed remained close by in town . But they would somehow survive. Anything was better than this. Maria was familiar with the pattern of the harrassment. It would start out small, innocuous enough, petty remarks, easily tossed aside like so much garbage. Yet it would just as easily escalate into something hateful, bitter and vicious, triggered by what someone said or did, by something that had happened, or by too much dope and liquor. One night Gina struggled to deal with it, to be tough, yet it had become like a sick twisted game, and Mrs. Carelli knew that Gina would end up the worst for it, worn down, beaten by what they were saying and doing, the nervous energy and sick excitement eating away at her mind until it turned on her. She came to her mother one night, her face haggard, her eyes dark and empty pockets. She paced up and down before her mother, who sat on the couch. Ma, I can t sleep. It s been 3 nights. I still can t sleep. do?
What ll I
Her mother patted the couch beside her. She hadn t been sleeping well either, looking at her daughters, seeing how they reacted to and coped with the enormous stress. A mother s heart. A mother s pain. A mother s love. She could never express these things to them, she was never the type to do this. Gina s efforts to deal with the harrassment were frantic, like a caged panther or a little wild helpless animal in a trap, trying to get free. Terry s efforts were stoic and grim, but she could no longer hide the pain and exhaustion in her eyes. Gina slouched down on the couch next to her mother and lovingly felt the upholstery. I always loved this couch, Ma. I used to sleep on it with you when I was a little girl. Remember? She sounded so sleepy, her voice distant like in a dream. Then she said in a loud petulant tone, Ma, I can t sleep anymore. I don t know what else to do Maybe it was the tone of her voice, reminding Mrs. Carelli of days gone by, maybe it was the frustration and helplessness, the vulnerability of the moment, that got to her. All she knew was that the dam that she had so carefully built and shored up began to crumble, and her emotions came pouring out. She grabbed Gina and held her there, and she began to cry. Softly. She never liked her children to see her cry. Not even her husband would see her like that, ever. Then the sobs became more like gasps, that she struggled to control. She told Gina to sh and she stroked her hair, something she rarely did. Gina finally closed her eyes and felt peace. She began to sleep. Why God? Maria whispered to the room, to the unseen presence. Why can t you do something? She knew once again that her prayers would be met with silence. Wasn t that how it had been? For in the face of such cruelty, even God could not speak. Even He had no answers. I can t lose my faith. It s all I have. My kids need me. God, I know you re here. Help us. Do something. Stop these animals. She heard a brittle laugh outside on the street and a bottle being thrown and shattering into pieces. She winced and closed her eyes. More laughter followed, hooting, cat calls. Maria dreaded the night. She used to love it, the end of the day, the blanket of restful peace descending on
the house after a weary dull day. Now the night time signaled the beginning of another onslaught - footsteps above them in the empty shelled out apartment upstairs, noises in the walls, yelling outside, music blaring. What would happen next? What were they up to? None of the neighbors ever so much as complained or spoke of this. Mrs. Carelli could not know and never would know, but she could only guess. They had been told to be patient and wait. Not to complain or report these things to the police, per Mr. Marino s orders. Once these bad people moved out - this trash , as they were called - the noise and harrassment would subside, never to return, and the street would once again settle down into its usual routine.
I will tell, Uncle Rico.
What are you talking about? Rico sneered. A steady, controlled, slender man, very sickly and pale, he was the head of the family. If Dad doesn t stop this, if you don t stop this, I ll tell. Tell what? Tell your ass. He turned away to pour himself a glass of
wine. Thomas took a deep breath and stared at his back. About my childhood, Uncle Rico, and when I was a teenager. to me. Please don t pretend you don t know. Thomas moved forward a few steps. What was done
Rico s back was still facing him.
Dad, you, your buddies - yeah, a real party, let s get everyone involved, right, Uncle? Rico whirled around. What the fuck are you talking about? but his eyes were scared and tired. he hollered,
You know Thomas said softly. You know. He smiled a small unreadable smile. Best kept secret of the Mob. NO, wait a minute, that must be the videos, bugging, and harassing of people. Or maybe it s both. What do YOU think? Rico drank his wine, his hands shaking. Thomas felt a surge of compassion. The man was old now, past 70. Uncle, his voice softened, I just want this to stop. left alone. I want everyone left alone. Go fuck yourself here. Thomas turned to go. Say whatever the hell you want. No one s gonna believe you. Thomas quietly walked out. Then he placed a call. Rico muttered, putting his glass down. I want the girl
Someone will, I promise you that.
Rico stared at his wine glass for a long time. Chapter 34
Thomas felt strangely free and confident for the first time in his life. He almost ran to his apartment building with renewed energy and lightness. They would have to stop now, they would have no choice. craziness would end. All of this
Thomas fed his bird, his hamsters and his goldfish. He gently talked to them as he fed them, in a soft soothing voice. His favorite song was on the radio Sailing by Christopher Cross. Thomas had always loved that song. Music took him to another place, another world, made him feel and see things inside. He started to switch on the TV when the phone rang - harsh and loud in his quiet apartment. Yo! He always answered the phone like that, he had loved the Rocky movie and Sylvester Stallone. Hey, Tommy He recognized Frankie s voice. Hey. Frankie sounded far away, he wondered why. tightly to his ear. You alright? Yeah, sure. Hey, Tommy, I was just thinking - well, me and Jimmy and a few of the guys - we want to get together and talk about this frigging thing - you know - with the girl and all that shit. Thomas hesitated. I really got nothing to say, Frankie. I mean He held the receiver
Yeah, I know, but still - we feel bad about this, she s not a bad kid. It s not just about her, it s everything. Tom, Frankie sighed, and talk or what? I know. I understand. So you want to get together
As Thomas thought it about, Frankie added
Your dad wants us to do this.
Can we meet tonight? I m not doing anything special, sure. How about on Jimmy s boat, you know the one, you know where it s docked,
right? The one with the tiger on it? That s it. Okay, then I ll be there. Thomas hung up and looked around his apartment. He instinctively thought of baking a cake or a pie, then he remembered and smiled No, I better buy something this time. He rubbed his hands together, and grabbed his leather jacket. First go to the pastry shop and pick up something special. He always liked to do that whenever he went anywhere or someone came to see him. Things were looking up. Dad had a change of heart. Looks like everybody did. Maybe Uncle Rico talked to them. He hoped so. He hated to threaten, of course, he would never use any such thing against his family, after all, they raised him and he knew they loved him in their way. He loved them, too, more than he could say. Despite everything that had happened. He often thought to himself, How could you go through such things and still love the people involved? There were many times he thought he was some kind of a freak. Maybe Thomas wasn t smart enough or deep enough to hate - he guessed you had to be a strong person to have those kinds of feelings, and he always thought of himself as weak.
He shrugged on his jacket, got some money, and left his apartment. He looked around one last time. See you later, guys. he whispered to his beloved pets, and then he walked out. Thomas had double parked to pick up some cannolis at his favorite pastry shop, then he rode down the street to the wharf. He stopped and parked his Jeep, and got out slowly. He looked around. He spotted Jimmy s beautiful majestic boat bobbing in the water. He smiled. Just like Jim to have a boat like that. He went over to the water s edge and waited, looking down at the inky black depths, hearing the gentle laps as the water moved against the pier. He felt so peaceful, so right. Tommy? The voice startled him, breaking the silence.
He turned around quickly.
Hi, Frank We saw you park
The guys are waiting for you inside the boat. I
just thought I d hang out for a while, look at the water. It s nice out here. Nice and
Yeah. Frankie shifted and coughed. peaceful
Sure is. Thomas held a box of cannolis out to Frankie. These are for you guys. I bought them at Marie s he added quickly. Frankie glanced at him with a strange look and Thomas smiled. She makes good pastry. She does, right. Frankie smiled back. Let s go inside.
Thomas went first and slid on the boat, Frankie followed gracefully. As Tom entered the brightly lit cabin, he blinked and squinted. About 5 guys were there, counting Frankie - there was Jim, a husky gray haired friend of Jim s, and 2 bodybuilder types, one of whom Thomas recognized - the young man that had been talking with his Dad that day when Thomas had burst into the room, so angry. He shook everybody s hand and said shyly, I bought cannolis. Frankie held them up. Everyone smiled, except for Jimmy. Jimmy stepped forward. So how s everything, Thomas? How are your pets? Everything alright? he drawled. Tom had never been a perceptive person, but suddenly the hair stood on the back of his arms. He didn t trust this friendly banter.
everything s good, thanks, Jim Good. Good. Jim repeated, flashing his beautiful grin. So let s talk,
shall we? He waved Thomas over to a chair. Thomas sat down. No one else did.
I understand this - situation - with the Carelli family has been upsetting to you. Is that right? Thomas s mouth became dry. He forced out, I feel sorry for them.
Jim stared at him, taking in every inch of Tom s face.
So because of this compassion you feel - you ve been making threats, is that right, Tommy? Thomas stared at a spot on the floorboards. He figured Uncle Rico would tell Dad, but not these guys. asked blankly.
Yeah - threats. Jim s voice hardened. Like maybe telling somebody what s been going on with this Carelli family. Thomas felt a strange kind of relief. anything else Thomas had said. At least Uncle Rico hadn t mentioned
I had no choice Jim, I wanted it to stop - I had to do something. What the fuck Jim grabbed both sides of the chair and leaned into Thomas, staring inches away from his face. The other men seemed uncomfortable and shifted their gazes. And who said you had to do something - who, huh? the boss of what goes on? Thomas s eyes filled with tears, almost by reflex. You have no say here, you have no power here. Understand? Jim shouted. Who the fuck made you
Thomas nodded and closed his eyes. He wanted to escape, to go into another world, another time. When he opened his eyes Jim was still there, breathing over him, spitting angrily with every word.
Suddenly the room seemed to explode. with his own inner rage and hatred.
But it was only Jim, combusting
He screamed You dirty ungrateful spoiled sonofabitch! With every word Jim punched him in the face, hard. Then he stopped for a moment, panting for breath. You like Daddy s money, though, huh? it. You like all the perks that go with
Thomas s face was bleeding, but he couldn t move, he couldn t even wipe the blood off. Jim had him by the arms, holding tight. Thomas shook violently, even his head was shaking. Dear God, please help me. What s
happening? This has to be a nightmare. This can t be really happening to me. The voice in his head wouldn t stop. You like secrets, Tom? He stared into Thomas s terrified wide eyes. well I have one of my own. He paused. How about my kid? Huh?
Thomas s head ached, his face throbbed, he tried to think, to focus. Stephen? he asked weakly. That s right, Stephen - my son! Jim spat out the words. you ve been doing to my son, you fucking fag. Thomas shook his head fiercely. I like Stephen I know what
I bet you do Jim grabbed him by the collar and dragged him up out the chair, throwing him on the floor. Thomas couldn t think straight. Damnit, Tom, think, think please. Jim leaned
Frankie boy walked in on you when my son had no clothes on. over Tom, his face red.
Thomas suddenly remembered, when the boy had his accident, the towel Frankie was there? How? I didn t see him Thomas looked at Frank helplessly and Frankie
Thomas promised the boy he would never tell. He promised. Jim, the boy spilled some milk on his pants and - I had to wash them Jim glared at him. It s the truth You expect me to believe that? Thomas said as calmly as he could manage.
Jim hesitated. Then he smirked. You re not bright enough to be a good liar, God knows, Tommy. He turned away for a few moments and seemed to be thinking. Then he said from behind his back See, now, there s another little problem we have here - your mouth. He looked back at Tom. Your mouth is too big. We have to shut it for you. Thomas was breathing hard and looking around at each of the men.
Dad and his uncle would never do this to him, would they? He coughed and blood came out of his mouth. Jim said slowly, That ll be the last thing coming out of your mouth, kid
Tom felt his bowels loosen, felt the awful cramps. Please, please, dear God, don t let this happen. I always keep so clean. I like to keep clean. Please God. Jim came closer. you re disgusting you know that? You make me sick
Thomas began to cry slowly and silently. He saw the 2 bodyguards pull out baseball bats and what appeared to be long butcher knives. He prayed inside, he prayed and screamed and begged. But nothing would come out of his mouth. Finally he said softly, Tell Dad - and Mom - and Uncle Rico - tell everybody I love them. Tell - Tell Gina he stopped. Tell her what? Jim spat out contemptuously but his eyes seemed scared.
Tell Gina I love her. Those were Thomas s very last words. Chapter 35
The darkness seeped into every corner of that room. No light - no glow from a TV set or a lamp. No illuminating ray from the moon - all the blinds and shades had been drawn. The silence seemed as deep and black as the darkness. Then a breath broke the unnerving unnatural quiet. A long drawn out breath, like a sigh or a gasp. It was hard to tell which. Was it a cry? Then a rustle of movement in the corner. An arm being raised almost in a salute. OR as though someone were reaching out to something. The lamp was switched on. A very dim lamp. And the figure became clearer. Dominic Marino sat in an overstuffed blue chair, waiting. Waiting and watching. His mouth trembled just a little, his eyes bloodshot. He rubbed them now.
Then his voice came out, with so much effort it seemed disembodied, as though it was coming from another corner of the room. Son. Are you here?
The window was open and a curtain fluttered. Dominic s eyes widened, perhaps with hope, perhaps with fright and trepidation. Seeing this as a sign, a portent of things to come. He raised his arm again as though to touch the curtain and the unseen wind. Then his arm fell back. Why? Why? He whispered. A question, a tiny word that had been asked millions of times by billions of people all over the world, in circumstances such as these, in times of agony and pain and death and heartache. Did Dominic Marino know that a woman and her family had asked this very same question, in this very same tortured way? So sad, so broken, so defeated. Because of something HE had done, something he had set into motion. Did he know? Did he care? If you had only kept quiet, Tommy. If you had just minded your business He began to cry. When those who are not familiar with tears begin to cry, it is often so painful for them that they become furious and resentful, and switch over into rage. So it was with Dominic. He exploded. You STUPID motherfucker, you dumb prick. Goddamn you! He banged his fist down on the arm of the chair. You were my son. We took you into our homes, into our family. Is that the thanks we get? For what, son? what? Tell me. Oh God, for what? I need to know For those useless pieces of shit? For
Lucy was sleeping upstairs, thanks to the painkillers and sedatives. It was the only way she could sleep at all. An unwitting accomplice in her husband s life, now she had become one in her son s death. She saw no escape. Only the escape of a sleep numbed by tranquilizers. A long slow mindless death. One which she now embraced rather than feared. Paul had come home to visit. To ask about his brother. What could they have told him? Yet another lie, how Tommy had disowned the family and their lifestyle and disappeared. Never to return. They even forged letters and postcards in Tommy s name and handwriting, but Paul seemed dissatisfied and unsure. He demanded to see his brother.
The lies became more complicated, harder to keep up with. Paul could see it in their eyes. Then he knew. Soon his own eyes reflected the fear and anger. Yet he too remained silent. All of them unspoken allies in this conspiracy of lies and secrets and death. Dominic fought for his son s life. HE did the best he could to hold on. The rage he felt at his son s betrayal, the fear of what his son could to everything they had built over the years - these were bottomless. Yet he held on. He fought. He remembered the beautiful blonde little boy in the corner, shy and stammering. The one he had chosen to take home. You betrayed us son Not a word had been spoken by Tommy. It never would have been. To Dominic, to the Mob, even the very idea of speaking openly constituted a betrayal of the worst and highest magnitude. He saw his son s face now right before his eyes - kind and loving and lit with a preternatural glow. He rose up from his chair and shook his fist. chair, breathing hard. Then he fell back in the
He could not help thinking If you had been my own son, if you had been my own flesh and blood, none of this would have happened. You would have felt like me, you would have thought like me. You would have loved me enough to keep your mouth shut. He began to cry again, in futility and defeat. Dominic s older brother Rico had called the shots. He had convinced Dom that Tommy was a threat. Also, he was a pedophile, wasn t he? According to Jimmy and some of the guys. At least that was the word going around the neighborhood. Hey, they even had some bimbo saying the same thing. And he had the nerve to throw that old shit up to OUR faces? The lying hypocrite. The ungrateful spoiled bastard. That s what happened when you got kids that weren t your own. Dominic let his brother good of the t end up in it happen. Aggressive, belligerent, controlling Dom had let take over. Had let Jimmy and the boys take charge. For the family. For the Marinos reputation. For all of us, so we won jail on account of some trashy family.
Why not? Walk away, close your eyes. You lost him years ago. Dominic had let him go for good now. He had let them put his son in the grave that he always tried so hard to crawl into. Always od ing for one reason or
another. Senseless, dumb reasons to Dom. Now let him die for real. real reason. A good one. An unstoppable one. Right? Right?
He slammed the side of his head with his hand. Shut up. Shut up.
He looked up. Tommy - are you here? Can you hear me? Please talk to me son
The wind blew the curtain and a paper fell on the floor off the night stand. Taking it as a sign, Dominic winced and got up from the chair, stooping to pick up the paper. He retrieved his eyeglasses from the drawer, and turned on a brighter lamp. He began to read. It was a letter from Gina. She had somehow found his address and wrote to him. At first Dominic let the letter sit there, refusing to even touch it. She couldn t have known about Tommy. No one outside the circle knew. Besides they had long since moved away. Ironically, right after Tommy died.
But now. Dominic stared at the letter for a while, his hands shaking. Then he began to read. Dear Mr. Marino, I am writing to tell you how sorry I am for what happened on Bennett Street. Although what was done to us was wrong, terribly wrong, I regret any part that I myself played in the situation. I just never expected any of that to happen. I was shocked and hurt and angry. You always seemed like nice decent people. Dominic snorted. Yeah. Is that why you people would always put us down and make fun of my baggy pants and Jackie s walk? A bunch of bullshit. The next part of the letter seemed almost like she had heard him, and was answering his thoughts. Mr. Marino, please forgive me for whatever I said or did to cause any hurt or angry feelings. I could have handled the situation in so many different ways, so much better than I did - we all could have.
He nodded to himself. Anyway, God bless you and your family, and your sons. Especially your wonderful son Tommy. God bless you all. I hope you know the peace and love of forgiveness in your life, always.
Love Gina What a crazy, mixed up girl. What a crazy mixed up thing to do. Why did she even bother? For his son? That had to be it. She was trying to get to Tommy. That s it! Trying to get a letter out of him, right, honey? Well, sweetheart, sorry, but you see, Tommy ain t in a position to be writing you any love letters. Dominic grinned but it was an ugly mean expression. Then he stared at the letter again and again. She s sorry. SHE s sorry. she for real? She blesses us. Holding it in his hands. She asks God to bless us. Was
he asked out loud,
Is she for real?
All he could see now was his son s face. And then the girls. Once she was coming around the corner and he bumped right into her. She seemed so ashamed, so red faced. She was always like that. It wasn t on account of anything we did. was always a messed up red faced loser. What s the purpose, Dad? Why are we doing this? She
The phrase had struck him over and over in his mind. One of their endless cyclical arguments that never went anywhere and only fueled their dislike and misunderstanding towards each other. Dominic was tired. Suddenly he felt the weight of the world s exhaustion in his bones. He waved his hand as though clearing the air around him. It s over now. It s over. Forget about it. He yelled that last phrase. You hear me? IT S OVER NOW.
Push it aside. It s over and done with. The girl, oh yes, he could easily push her aside and be done with it. No problem-o, as his son loved to say. But Tommy? What happened to him, how could you ever forget that? He did not know the details nor did he ever want to know. No one ever told him. One day Tommy was here, the next day he was gone. Isn t that the way it always is, for all of us? The circumstances may change, but the song remains the same. Lucy moved and yelled in her sleep. Stop. Just stop. Get outta here. She shouted at an invisible assailant.
But the assailant never did leave. This happened every night and always would happen until Lucy drew her very last breath. Dominic climbed the stairs to join Lucy in bed. all he had left. Paul had long since gone. She needed him. She was
He lay down next to Lucy and covered himself up to his neck. He didn t realize he was still clutching the letter. He looked at it and put it on the dresser table.
Then he turned to face the wall and watched the shadows of the night play on its surface He hoped he would not dream of the girl again tonight. He hoped he would not find himself back in that land that haunts our sleep, staring once again into his son s pain filled eyes.
EPILOGUE Chapter 1 Gina was in the laundry room of the apartment building her family had recently moved into. The basement smelled of detergent and bleach and a concrete musty odor. Clothes were gently swishing in the washing machine, sudsy and warm. Gina placed her hands on a warm dryer that someone had recently used and emptied. The warmth felt good on her hands. Her hands were always cold. Suddenly she saw movement from the corner of her eyes. She turned quickly. It was Tommy. Standing in the doorway. No sunshine penetrated the dreary room, yet he seemed to be standing as though he were back lit by some glow. She even saw the blonde of his lashes and eyebrows, the fair complexion with traces of marks like freckles, only pink. She blinked for just a second. Then he was gone.
Her heart racing, her head feeling light, Gina ran to the doorway and looked down the hall. There was no one. No exit door was nearby, no apartments. Tommy? she called softly, then in a louder tone. Where did you go? She felt flushed.
Reluctant to finish the clothes, her mind raced with excited anticipation. He actually came to see her! He liked her. He wanted to tell her something. She grinned and clapped her hands with joy. Then her heart sank. But how did he leave so fast? That didn t make any sense. Tommy, are you Houdini or something?
She hurriedly put the clothes in the dryer with a burst of energy, eager to go upstairs and tell her mom and sister what had taken place. They didn t believe her. She argued, she insisted, she swore. Her mother remained adamant and full of practical reasons why it just wasn t possible, and Terry was simply annoyed.
Terry, I know what I saw. It was him. Gina felt her anger rise. Since Bennett Street, she vowed never to get angry again or make flip remarks. She knew what it had cost her, what it had cost all of them. Gina, why would he do that? Tell me. Why would he even bother to come and see you, of all people? Any of us? Why not? Right. Maybe he wants to see how we are And pigs fly special missions to save the world. Gina waved her hand at her as though to ward her away.
Terry, please He WAS there
Then where did he go? Now how can that be?
You said yourself you didn t even see him leave.
I don t know! Gina s voice rose. She wished she had never mentioned that part. She should have made up something. Maybe he s just quick, or he knows a special way to get out.
Ma, I m going to go listen to some music for a while, I can t take this. I gotta clear my head. Terry shot a nasty glance at Gina and walked away. Ever since Bennett Street Terry had changed. She seemed angrier, harder. Gina knew Terry resented her even more. Everything about Gina seemed to bother her sister now. Gina thought that in a way Terry blamed her for what had happened. Gina s own sense of guilt caused her to see accusations everywhere. But Terry could have told her she was just sick and tired of always being the strong one. Gina turned to her mother. Ma, do you believe me?
Gina, I don t know. I wasn t there. Seriously, I doubt Thomas Marino would do that. Not with that father of his calling the shots. They hate us, Gina. Mrs. Carelli said this last remark as gently as she could. Look at what they did. We had to move here, practically out of town. Thank God Pat found a job close by. Maria knew how her daughter felt about Tommy. She knew the dream world her daughter spent her days in, and she tried her best to discourage this. But Gina knew the truth. at her and smiled. This was no dream. She saw the way he had looked
Help me get dinner ready, okay? Okay. Gina shrugged. They had seemed to go on with their lives, but Gina was standing still. IT sounded crazy, but it was almost like she still lived there on Bennett Street. Still waiting for things to change, still waiting for things to get better. She could not move on. She went to many psychics now, on a search for answers, trying to prove or disprove the powerful intuition that whispered to her, sometimes shouting. Gina always came back from these sessions and readings depressed and confused. Each psychic told her different things. Not one of them saw what she knew was the single most important, life-altering event that she had ever gone through. How good could they possibly be? She began to have vivid dreams, a feeling of someone leaning over her, trying to kiss and touch her. She d awaken with the feeling of having been lightly stroked on her head and cheek.
She had only had this sensation one other time, when her beloved grandfather died, when she was 12. She had felt his kiss on her cheek when she woke up, and smelled the faint smoke of his cigar. Gina spoke of these things to no one. She was considered a dreamer, a flake, with an overactive imagination. Who would believe her?
Chapter 2 Gina sat in her living room, listening to her portable stereo. Music remained her constant companion, her greatest pleasure - besides food. Her biggest thing lately was angels. Gina had always believed in celestial creatures, and she was very religious even as a young child. She knew that something had helped them all survive through these times, and something helped her stay alive even when she wished to die. Dear Angels she spoke aloud softly, closing her eyes and folding her hands in prayer. Angels, if you can hear me, please help me. She peeked out for a second and smiled, then closed her eyes again. If - oh what can I ask? Her thoughts fluttered like moths against a screen, trying to get through. The screen was her fear, her doubt, her embarrassment. Angels, when I saw Tommy that day - was that really him? Was he there? Does he care for me? She swallowed hard, rushing to finish what her mind was telling her to say. Does he like me at all? Here she became bolder. If he does, then please - uh - do this for me. Make a song come on the radio, right now, in a few seconds or minutes. How about the song Foolish Heart ? That s one of my favorites. She smiled. That s the song I was listening to by my window when I heard Tommy outside. That s when I first knew I liked him and maybe he liked me. So please, angels please she pressed her folded hands to her lips and sighed deeply can you please play this song for me if all this is true?
She opened her eyes and went into the kitchen to get a soda. Just as she was taking out the can, Gina heard the opening strains of her song. The song that she had requested from the angels. She let out a cry and her eyes filled with tears. cross, and whispered, Tommy? Then, Thank you, angels. She made the sign of the
Who would believe her? The secret in Gina s heart carried her through a lonely life, days and weeks and months going by, still the same on the surface, but underneath, like an ocean of marine life, teeming with odd and colorful and mysterious creatures of magnificent beauty. This was her life now, and her mind. The beauty mesmerized her. The real world seemed so dull and dead, but her own inner world - populated with angels and dreams and signs - was the most alive thing she had ever known. She slept now, peacefully, for hours on end, sometimes straight through the night. Something she couldn t do before. Sometimes, though, her dreams would startle her awake - like one dream she had of Tommy being chased down Bennett Street by a pack of wolves with blood on their mouths. The dreams that helped her sleep the best were the dreams of Tommy telling her things. He was at a farm - a gorgeous red and white farm with acres and acres of land, dotted with yellow and blue flowers. There were horses in the field, and cows and even pigs and sheep. She saw 2 dogs - a Golden Retriever and a black Lab - and a couple of cats - a ginger cat and a black and white. Tommy came out of the house and waved to her. She came over to him. The ground felt like air, like she was walking on nothing, it was so soft and light. She reached him. Again, she could see the details of his face - the blonde almost invisible brows and lashes, the fair skin dotted with light pink. He was beautiful. His face shone. And then she noticed - he had all his hair! Golden silky blonde hair. She put a hand to her mouth and giggled. Tommy put a hand to the top of his head as though he read her mind. Oh,
I wanted to look good for you.
You always looked good Tommy, hair or no hair. She felt like she could do or say anything here, not like in real life. She sensed rather than saw, that her appearance had changed too. Her hair was thick and long and curly, just like she always wanted it. She touched it and felt the beautiful texture. She looked like a princess. She could see it in his eyes. Again he read her mind. Gina, you always looked like a princess to me. Now you look the way I always saw you. She began to cry. He took a step toward her, but for some reason he could not come any closer. Gina seemed to remember something, vague and disturbing, but she couldn t bring it to the surface of her mind yet. Tommy turned serious. Gina, tell your dad to be careful. Why? His heart. His heart s fine, Tommy. He just had a check-up Tell him to
There s something wrong. He s going to have a problem soon. go back to the doctor. Ask for more tests. He doesn t have any chest pains. Tommy gently insisted, back. Soon. He s sick. He holds it all in.
Tell him to go
She nodded, her eyes wide.
Thank you, Tommy.
I love you guys. I wouldn t want anything to happen to you. I never did. That s why he stopped and gave her a sad smile. He swept his arms around to encompass the surrounding land. That s why you re on this farm? You moved away, Tommy?
He stared at her, one of his penetrating gazes that reached deep inside and made her tremble and feel like fainting. You could say that. He reached down and picked some flowers. Remember
It was almost like he was pleading.
Of course I will. How could I ever forget you? Gina tried to control the direction of the dream. She found she could not. Usually, in dreams you can determine where you will go and what will happen. She could not do this and it puzzled her. But it s MY dream, she remembered thinking. This is more than a dream, Gina back. Tommy answered her mind gently. I ll be
Everything shimmered as though in a hazy afternoon sun. Tommy placed the flowers in her hand. The shimmer became more and more intense, like a blinding light. Gina woke up. Tears were streaming down her face.
Gina tried to tell her dad. She begged him, she bribed him, she offered to go with him. Pat Carelli refused to budge. He felt fine and he would not go back to the doctor. Today was market day. Pasquale still worked down the market, selling sausages with peppers and mushrooms and onions. Saturdays were their busiest days and Pat had to help out some of the guys selling fish as well. Gina had even told her dad that the dream s warning was from Papa. Her father had loved grandpa, even though he was Mrs. Carelli s father, he and Pat got along wonderfully. Pat had lost his own dad at an early age, and Papa more than made up for this with plenty of quiet gentle affection. Still he would not listen. Pasquale was nothing if not fatalistic. That night, Maria and Gina sat watching the Love Boat and eating chips. Terry was off on another date with someone she met through a friend at work. The phone rang, harsh and loud and insistent. Gina looked at Maria in surprise. Who would be calling them, especially at 8:00 at night on a Saturday? Gina went to the phone, saying over her shoulder, be late. She picked it up. Hello? Sure. Sure. Okay. Thank you. Don t Maybe it s Terry, she ll
Gina listened staring at the wall.
She quickly hung up and ran over to her mother. panic.
Ma, don t worry.
What is it?
Mrs. Carelli sat up
Daddy was taken to the emergency ward. He started to get chest pains down the market. He s still at the hospital with one of the guys. Oh Jesus Christ. Mrs. Carelli sprang into action. She hurried to get dressed, and told Gina to get dressed and come with her. We ll take a cab, Gina, hurry up, let s go see Dad. Mr. Carelli turned out to be fine. He had suffered a mild heart attack,
thankfully that s all it was. He needed to be on medication, and there had been some damage to his heart, but nothing significant. Gina remembered asking her dad s firm strict woman doctor, this have been detected if my dad had more tests before? Doctor, could
The doctor seemed to hesitate, as though reluctant to admit to any kind of error or miscalculation. Finally she said, Well, we do have a certain kind of cardiac test that may have foreseen this event. We just didn t see it coming. Gina went over to her dad. He smiled. See? I told you to go get more tests. I m still breathing.
It turned out okay, Gina.
Thank God. Gina knew she could not rest until she found out what had happened to Tommy. What was the meaning of her dreams, and if he were alive, how was he sending her those messages?
Chapter 4 Pat became a reluctant investigator for his daughter Gina. He knew many guys from the North End who labored down the market on weekends. Everyone liked Pat and they often confided in him, knowing that he was a quiet man who would never betray a confidence. One night Pat came back with some news for an eager Gina. Apparently Tommy Marino had gone to live in Arizona. He was never a healthy boy, and the climate and air there was considered best for him. Then the next week, Pat heard another story. And another. And then another. The most popular version going around, and the most likely one, was that Tommy had simply moved to get away from his family and their Mob life. He had cut all ties and just sent them postcards once in a while. Gina didn t believe any of them. All she believed in were her dreams, and the Tommy that waited for her there. She was an intelligent girl, but somehow her mind blocked out the possibility, the supernatural explanation, for her vivid dreams and uncannily accurate messages. Gina had a way of dealing with the world and the truth in her own unique way. Refusing to face one thing, unable to face the other, she lived in an alternate world, neither here nor there, and it was in this world that she functioned most comfortably. She HAD seen Tommy. He HAD been in her dreams, and he was right about her dad. But if she fully accepted this fact, if she fully accepted what her mind was trying to show her, then the nightmare hadn t ended for Gina. There were more lies, lies upon lies, secrets that never ended, a sinister web that had also engulfed Tommy and taken him away. A web that included his own family. He was here. With her. could safely accept. That s all Gina knew, and that was all that she
One she but and
day, on a clear September morning, as she returned home from errands , caught sight of a man in her building. She thought he looked familiar, she would never think of asking or being nosy. He kept staring at her, staring, until finally she said politely, Hello.
Hi, my name is Mark He held out his hand awkwardly and she took it just as awkwardly, but she clasped it with a gentle firmness. My name s Gina. They smiled at one another and she added, You look so familiar. So do you. The elevator came and they got in it in silence. Do you live here? he asked finally as it ascended. Yes, I do, with my parents. I do too. I m on the 9th floor. He got off first and turned to her shyly and waved a little goodbye. See you around Gina tried to think where she had seen him.
Mark and she became friendly, saying hello and making conversation whenever they saw each other. One day he asked her to take a walk with him through the park. She hesitated, and then answered, Sure why not? It was a bright cold day, almost winter, but lots of people were around, it was noon-time, and she had lost her fear of going out by herself, forcing herself to recover slowly, step by painful step. As they walked through the park, they spoke of the weather, sports (which Gina knew nothing about) TV and music. Then suddenly after a long silence, Mark said softly I was there on Bennett Street, Gina. I worked for the Marinos. Gina stiffened, but did not stop walking. She looked at him and nodded. Never one to show her feelings easily, she had had to learn how to loosen up and let all her beautiful emotions out on her face, in her body, in her
voice. She smiled. It s okay, Mark. That s all in the past.
No, Gina, let me finish. I worked for them, and I did things for them, but I feel so sorry. I became a dope addict, then they tossed me aside like so much garbage. I was sick, had no money, had to go on SSI. Then I ended up here.
She felt butterflies in her stomach.
Thomas, what about Thomas?
Whatever happened to him? She needed desperately to know the truth, but she tried always to remain cool. I just want to say I m sorry for everything. It wasn t your fault. Gina gave him a kind look and her coolness melted. I m okay now, I m doing good. Slowly as they walked she asked the one question that had always been on her mind since she left, Mark, whatever happened to Dominic s son, Thomas? Do you remember him? Mark remained silent, staring at the ground. I heard he moved to California, to Hawaii, all kinds of stories. pressed on, ever so gently.
Mark looked up at her, and there were tears in his eyes. Please don t repeat this to anyone, Gina, please. Promise, ok? I m not supposed to be telling anyone. Gina felt scared and nervous. tell a soul She nodded quickly, I promise. I won t
Mark pointed to a nearby bench and they sat down. He faced her and said , I think they killed him, Gina. Gina felt like she had been hit over the head. disoriented. Who did? The guys, you know, the guys, Why? she asked almost crying. She felt sick, dizzy,
he repeated impatiently.
I don t know, I guess - he said the wrong thing, he did the wrong thing, I
heard he was going to go up against his family.
Made some kind of threats.
Everything seemed so bright, so clear in the afternoon sun. Gina found herself looking up at the sky. She looked back at Mark, Do you know why he would do something like that, Mark? Mark stared at her sadly, and then she knew. She knew all of it. Nothing more had to be said. He reached over and gently grabbed her hand and squeezed it, and she let the tears wash away all her pain.
Chapter 6 Mark knocked on Gina s door one day. Her mother was downstairs with the ladies in the community room, socializing and trading gossip with easy warm affection. This was Mrs. Carelli s only recreation as she got older and developed leg problems. She could no longer be as active as she once was. Neither could Mr. Carelli, as his heart problems slowly worsened. But Gina stayed with them and helped them from day to day. Gina rushed to answer the knock on the door. Mark. She blushed. Oh hi Hi Gina. I m not bothering you, am I? She quickly opened it and saw
No, I d let you in but the house is a mess. I don t want to come in. Can you - come upstairs with me for a while? have something to get you. It s in my apartment. Mark hesitated. Do you mind? IT will only take a minute. I
Sure. Just let me go get my keys. Gina ran back inside to get her set of keys on the table and also her gray sweater that she always wore. She closed the door behind her. I hope no one sees me with Mark, she found herself thinking. God knows what these people will make of it. She gave him a quick look and smiled. He smiled back. elevator and Mark pressed the up button. They walked to the
The elevator came quickly and took them to the 9th floor. Gina followed Mark down the hall and stood in front of his apartment door. You want me to wait out here, Mark? You can come in, I don t mind.
Mark unlocked the door and ushered Gina in. She walked into the hallway and quickly looked around. It was a nice neat apartment. Gina saw a pile of boxes piled up in the living room next to the entertainment center and under the window.
This is nice, Mark Thanks
He bent over and rifled through some boxes and then stood up. He came over to her with what seemed to be a china doll.
Here we go.
This is - he hesitated. Are you sure you don t want to sit down, Gina? Maybe we should. Just for a minute. Something in the tone of Mark s voice up a chair at his living room table. caused Gina to nod her head and pull
He showed her the doll. IT was breathtaking. Long brown shiny hair, large brown eyes with long lashes, and pink blush on its porcelain face. And a purple lace dress. Uh - you remember Frankie? From Bennett Street, right, Gina?
Gina nodded and tried to avoid making a face. She remembered Frankie as a brazen trouble maker, and somehow she knew he had been involved in everything her family went through years ago. Tommy Mark continued, Tommy, you know - he disappeared. After this happened, Mark swallowed hard, sniffled and rubbed his nose, Frankie gave me this doll. He told me the story behind it, but I forgot. I was always so high in those days, we all were. It was like - what day was it, man, you know? Gina smiled but she felt sad and tired. And then when I came to He stared at Gina and
Well, anyway, I held onto this all these years. live here and I saw you, I suddenly remembered. then at the doll, fingering its lace dress.
This, Tommy had bought this - as a present. For you, Gina. He had wanted to give it to you someday, to get up the nerve to approach you and give you this doll, but he never did. Somehow Frankie found out - you know how Frankie was, good old Frank was always into everything. After Tommy died,
Frankie kept hold of it, but then he gave it to me. creeps. I think you should have it now, Gina.
Said it gave him the
Gina s eyes burned with tears and her throat ached from the effort of trying not to cry. Not again. No more tears. She held the doll gently in her hands. Then she remembered. It filled her mind the way the sun bursts out from behind a passing cloud and fills the day with sudden light. Her dream. Tommy had been sitting with her on a park bench by the water, with the waves gently lapping on the rocks beneath them. The sun was shimmering on the water like a thousand diamonds. Tommy turned to her. It s coming, Gina! For you. I have a present for you. Where is it? Can I see it? he said with a beautiful smile.
He held her hand and whispered, Soon. You can see it soon, it s coming. The time isn t right yet. But you ll see it soon. Then Gina had woken up and the dream was gone. Gina heard Mark as she slowly came back to him and to the room and the table where she sat cradling the doll in her arms. Are you okay, Gina? I m alright. About Tommy? I was just thinking. he asked sadly.
She felt again a sense of isolation and wonder. How could she tell Mark about this? How could she ever explain? She liked Mark. She saw his goodness. But she knew she would never tell him about this. This made her sad both for Mark and for herself. He was wonderful, Mark, she whispered. I had tried to give you this once
Yeah, you re right, he was a good kid.
before you know, Gina.
Her eyes widened.
Once you were visiting the old neighborhood, I guess you were buying some pastries or something. And I called out your name, but you kept walking. Like you were deaf. He grinned. Gina smiled. Selective deafness. I only hear what I think it s safe for me to hear. Especially after what happened. He flushed and turned away. NO, I understand.
He stood up and went to a calendar on the wall. Well, look at this! What s that? Today s the day, I guess. Strange, huh?
Gina stood up too, holding the doll in her arms. It s the same day Tommy - it ll be 20 years ago
The date today, Gina. today.
Gina held the doll so tightly she thought she would break it. the doll and stroked its hair. The time isn t right yet, Gina. right. The words echoed in her brain. She got Tommy s present just when he wanted her to get it. Remember me, Gina? Oh, Tommy. Will you remember me?
You ll get my present when the time is
How could I ever forget?
Chapter 7 She dreamed of Thomas again, after Mark had told her what happened. In her dream, he was gesturing to her, telling her to come with him. She followed, and there he led her to a beautiful meadow of blue cornflowers, and butterflies flying over them. He told her Blue flowers mean remember me always, Gina. mean eternal life. Then the dream ended. She went out the next day and bought as many bunches of blue flowers as she could find, and bought a butterfly pin to wear over her heart. One day was pretty much like any other for Gina, and as the years passed, she felt old and tired. Her parents became sick and Gina stayed home once again, now for good, to be their caregiver. She loved to think of Thomas as her spirit presence, her silent partner, who gave her strength to carry on. She never found anyone to love, and she remained alone for the rest of her life. But she was never really alone, for thoughts of Thomas comforted and sustained her even in the worst of times. Mark remained her good friend, and she watched him get stronger, then one day he was back on the needle, and was taken away by ambulance, never to return. Her hair was graying, her face lined, but inside Gina still felt like a pretty young girl, an ingenue, just starting out in life, bashful and coy. She had faced the loss of her parents with surprising grace and strength, she never thought she could go on without them, especially her beloved mother, but she knew it was Thomas, always Thomas, who helped her get through. One night, after both her parents were gone, and her sister Theresa had married and moved away, Gina made herself a cup of coffee and sat down to watch TV. She felt so tired today, so old. She left the coffee on the table and went to lie down for just a few minutes. Oh, Thomas, she said as she lay on the bed, it s tough getting old. But then you wouldn t know anything about that would you? She smiled and looked at the picture she had drawn of him. Strangely enough, she could never draw or even remember Thomas s face until one day she prayed to And butterflies
the angels and Blessed Mother to help her with his portrait. Within minutes, she had drawn an amazing likeness. She kept it in a frame by her bed, always. She closed her eyes, and lay back on the pillow. tired I m so tired, Tommy, so
Someday she knew she would see Thomas again, in another place, another time, and this knowledge gave her courage, a secret happiness that had always eluded her before. Blue flowers and butterflies, right, Thomas? She smiled as she drifted off to sleep. Blue flowers mean remember, and butterflies mean eternal life. In her dreams he was there, waiting for her, holding out a bunch of blue flowers, and coming to life once again in her heart.
THE END -
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