By Dylan Todd
“Take a seat, son.” The old man pointed at a chair directly across from himself. Tommy obliged. Tommy had been to several sit downs just like this, but never the focus of said sit down. Nervous, he fought every instinct to run, but he knew that to run would mean that he would have to keep running or die. The old man was Lucio DeGuardo. DeGuardo had run his crime family for almost forty years and would soon retire. As of lately, the wolves were at his door. Capo’s vying for the spot, associates vying for the capo’s spot and so on. Tommy was not quite sure what the meeting was about, but he knew from his eight years in the life that it was no small thing. It was either a really good thing or a very bad thing.
“Take it easy, kid. Relax, we just need to shuffle things around a bit,” DeGuardo softly said. The look of real concern shone on his old face. The old face of an old fox who had been doing fox business for a very long time, Tommy thought.
Vincent Umbrozzi was standing to the left of Tommy. The old man motioned toward him and Vincent took a seat next to Tommy. They had known each other for years and had been friendly in the way that co workers are, but Tommy knew that Umbrozzi had high ambitions and it came off as desperation. Vincent smiled at Tommy and cupped his shoulder. Tommy placed his own hand on top of Vincent’s.
“Tommy. Vincent. You two boys know each other,” the old man nodded, “And now the reason I have called for you”.
Tommy could see it clearly now. Everything he had worked for. All the arms broken, all the cops paid, all the children that were now orphans. He had made this man a fortune. And for what? To be passed over like an ugly girl at a spring dance.
“Don’t look so damn glum, Tommy. Your numbers are just falling. Vincent is a known earner. Look, you will keep the carpet warehouses downtown along with a healthy share of the car dealerships. But Vincent will now control the nightclubs, the restaurants, and the trucking contracts. Poker rooms from the nightclubs are his as well.”
With a wave of the old man’s hand and the toothy smile of Vincent Umbrozzi, it was clear. This was no demotion. Tommy was being pushed out. Not just a little. He’s seen this happen before. Joe DeCicco was once the biggest earner in the family. Eventually he lost gambling. Then whores. Eventually the old man had left him with only concrete. Construction was a big business in the family and Joe was annoyed but grateful with the decision, until he found out that he was not in charge of construction. Concrete. He received profits from the concrete that the construction company used. DeCicco drove several European cars, had six girlfriends with allowances, and split his time between three houses. Then suddenly he was basically a nine-to-fiver. It didn’t take long for DeCicco to raise a resistance. Giuseppe “Joe” DeCicco was found in the trunk of his own car with hundred dollar bills stuffed in his mouth. He had been strangled from the backseat of his own car.
So, Tommy took it and smiled. Had to. He was no DeCicco and didn’t want to be. There wasn’t much else to do about it. Walking out of the meeting, he shook Vincent’s hand and kissed his cheek. He hugged and kissed the old man. His head still spinning, he was defeated.
Ever since he was a little kid, Tommy knew what he wanted. He wanted to carry a gun, he wanted to be apart of something, he wanted to be respected. Tommy wanted to be a gangster and he had always done what gangsters were supposed to do. Take the shit jobs first. Keep your head down just enough but not too much as to be disrespectful. Don’t get greedy. Kick your cash flow up to the big guys. Eight years. Eight years he had done this and had made great friends and a few(now deceased) enemies. Never had he been reprimanded, never had the old man’s voice been raised toward him.
Tommy was Italian, all the guys in the family were, but the difference had always been what kind of Italian. Most made guys could trace their lineage to Sicily. Tommy’s grandparents were from Sardinia. Tommy was Italian, like all guys in the family, but the wrong kind and some of the old guys had not let him forget it. He never really understood what the big deal was. He spoke Italian, could cook Italian dishes, sing Italian songs, and had married an Italian woman.
Some months had gone by and Tommy wasn’t starving. Not even close. He was earning a living from the warehouses and dealerships, but he wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough. Although DeGuardo had brushed him off, he never thought that anything else would change. He was wrong. The old timers had always liked him and respected him. Now there were cold shoulders and hey-how-ya-doing’s.
This is what the fall is like, he thought. Slow. Miserable.
Tommy had some Irish connections from further south that he had done big business when he was just starting out. He would boost the cars in the city, and take them across state lines where the Irishmen would strip them and repaint them. New plates, new cars. Good money. Things had not exactly soured, both had just moved on to better schemes. He had heard that most of them had gone militant and moved back home to join the IRA, but there were three brothers that had stuck around in the states and got into the meth business.
Liam, Michael, and Brendan McKellan had done odd jobs for both the Italian and Jewish families for the most part of a decade. The car stripping operation was the beginning. Soon they were selling guns. Pressure from the ATF and increase in demand from the old country had proved too much for the brothers and they soon moved on to methamphetamine. They had almost a dozen labs throughout the east coast of the country.
Tommy is sitting at a greasy spoon diner on the side of the highway, sipping too bitter coffee and picking at his fried eggs. A graying gentleman in a green flak jacket is looking across the room. Tommy lifts one hand without looking. Liam McKellan sits down across from him.
“Goodness, my boy, you look like hell,” the Irishman said with a smile.
“Liam, you are looking well, my friend. How are you and your brothers?“
“My knees are bad, my back is bad, blood pressure is bad, hell my temper is bad,” Liam laughed, “what can I do for you, boy?”
Tommy explained his situation. As they spoke, he noticed how old his friend had gotten. How tired. He also noticed a look of reluctance. They both knew that the line they were walking was a thin and dangerous one. If the families back home knew that an associate was making money on the side, they would want there share. And they wouldn’t ask twice. Liam was correct in being wary no matter how much he liked Tommy. It could cost him his business. Or his life.
“You looking for work or a crew? Sounds to me like you need both and maybe a few million miles between yourself and your current employers. This life doesn’t exactly give a severance package, boy. They’re gonna kill ya.”
Tommy nodded. He knew it as soon as he had the sit down with DeGuardo some months back. They were going to slowly chip away until there was nothing left and when he rebelled, which they knew he would, he would be clipped. It would be some big gorilla from out of state with a .38 or a grease monkey that put a bomb in his car. Tommy knows. He was often the guy that did the clipping.
Tommy and Liam worked through the details in an old trailer near an oil derrick that the McKellan brothers owned. Liam would supply contacts from the IRA for weapons and soldiers. The Irish would be landing in a few weeks, just enough time for Tommy to plan his exit strategy. He would have one chance. To fail was to die.
Tommy woke in a fog. Ringing. A ringing had entered his brain and shook him. His phone. Half asleep, he answered. “Hello?”
“Tommy. Where are you?”
He recognized the sweet, terrified voice as his ex-wife, Stephanie. He had not spoken with her in some years and before he could do the math, he heard her voice crack and her tears begin to fall. She was hysterical.
“Look, Steph, I don’t know why you’re calling. I’m taking a vacation in the Carolina’s…” he began.
“Tommy don’t fucking lie to me, something is happening and I want you to tell me what’s going on. People are talking, people are scared. I’m scared.”
His blood began to boil. This was off limits. He didn’t know what him and his ex-wife “were” anymore, but what they had was not to be touched and the bosses knew that. Biting his lip until his shirt was collecting blood drops, the tears began to fall on his end as well.
“Dammit, Steph. You were not supposed to be in this life, that’s why you left me, remember? It doesn’t involve you. Now, what’s being said? Are you safe? Have there been people outside the house?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Fuck, Tommy I don’t know anything, I’m so scared. Everybody is acting so friendly, you would think it was our wedding day. People bringing money to the house. Gifts, food. What the hell is happening?” Her voice changing pitch, tone, and volume as she spoke.
Tommy’s tears had stopped cold. Suddenly he was not scared. He was angry. “My funeral, Stephanie. Those are the things that you bring to a widow. Listen, in the linen closet there is a panel that is slightly loose. Remove it and you’ll find some cash and a pistol. Take it and go buy some hair dye. Something drastic. Drive until you are at least two counties away, dye your hair at a hotel, and think of anywhere in the world that you want to be and go. Fucking go. If I’m able to I will contact you in about six months.”
“Tommy, what the hell is going on? What did I do? What did you do? I can’t…”
“Sweetheart, go. You have to go. Now. Turn your phone off when I hang up and don’t turn it on for a few months. I love you. Bye”
He could see how this was going to turn out. The reason the old man was breaking the family rules. It’s because he was no longer family and the rules no longer applied. He had to act fast, he was hoping to catch them by surprise but now time was slipping. They would find him and soon. He called Liam and when he hung up, he tossed his phone in the lake.
Hell had come to town. Brendan McKellan had spotted some goons near the freeway. Four Italian meat heads was how he put it to Tommy. Brendan was not worried. He was cut his teeth and broken his bones in the Troubles back home. He was more brave than stupid, admittedly, and he loved a fight. Older brother Michael had a different strategy. He had made friends with a local guy. Medium height, stocky, and tan. The guy owed Michael a favor.
Up north, DeGuardo was tearing through the waterfront. Snatching up every snitch, conman, and wannabe wise guy. Tommy had broken his heart. Dipping down south to make money without paying. It wasn’t about the money, Lucio lied to himself, it was the fact that Tommy had lost respect. The old man had hurt many men. Had tortured many men. Had clipped many men. Tommy was not to be the first in which it was personal, but it was going to hurt the most. He had taken in that scrappy Sardinian bastard in his teen’s and had molded him into a money making, loan sharking, killing machine. Even as he is sending four muscle sharks down to the boondocks to deal with this treachery, tears are falling from the old man’s weathered face.
Vincent Umbrozzi was just sitting down for a late dinner. Life was good. He was earning. Had a crew that even had a crew of their own. Cutting into his veal Milanese, he heard the hammer of a gun being pulled. Halfway through attempting the sign of the cross, Umbrozzi’s brains hit the Milanese, his body jerking out of his chair. Brendan McKellan made his own sign of the cross, and fired once more.
DeGuardo’s hit squad had found their mark. Barricaded in a hotel, drinking wine and holding a pistol. One of the goon’s, Pete had seen him through the window. He waved to the other men and signaled for them to break in. Two shots rang out as soon as the door gave way. First guy down. Pete ran around to the entrance just in time to see the second man drop. Spinning for cover at the door, Pete pulled two guns from his coat, took a deep breath and turned. He filled the target with two full magazines. Thirty bullets had turned the man into what looked like a cheese grater. Cursing through a clenched jaw, Pete wiped his brow and lit a cigarette. The old man was going to be pleased.
The old man heard from Pete within the hour. His old hands clenching a handkerchief that was painted with blood. He smiled and pressed a button near his night stand. A Peruvian woman with a platter entered the room. The platter contained a glass of brandy and two pills. DeGuardo thanked her and shooed her away. Taking his pills with the brandy, he could finally relax, knowing that Tommy had been put down. Rabid dog, he whispered before raising his glass of brandy. Salud, dear boy, he thought. He smiled again. Just before drifting off, he noticed movement near his door. He shook his head, attempting to clear it. The pills had not kicked in yet but the brandy was working.
Reaching for the gun in his nightstand drawer, he heard footsteps. His hands felt alien on the revolver. It felt too heavy as he waved it across his line of sight. Seeing nor hearing nothing, he began to lower the gun. The pills had started to do their thing and he began to relax.
Tommy put his gun to the old man’s forehead and cocked the hammer. He realized that DeGuardo was faintly aware of what was about to happen and it disappointed him. Pulling back his hand, he brought the gun down on the bridge of the old man’s nose. Blood spraying both of the men, Tommy smiled.
“Tomasino, you’re. You’re dead. You. You. You,” DeGuardo sputtered. He was going in to shock.
“Salud, you greedy prick,” Tommy said, and fired three bullets into Lucio DeGuardo’s face.
Opening his car door outside DeGuardo’s house, he heard approaching footsteps. Easing his gun from his belt, he slowly turned.
“Tommy, I was so scared,” Stephanie said as she buried her head into his chest. “ I heard they got you in a hotel room, shot you to pieces.”
“I needed more time. The guy was a decoy.”
“What are you going to do now?” she asked through tears.
“I don’t know, baby. I can’t stay here,” he said, kissed her and ducked into his car before she could hold him tighter. He still loved her. Hell, he still loved DeGuardo. Had been a father to him. This life wasn’t for him anymore, he could start over down south. Not have to deal with the family politics. He could work with Pols, Jews, Russians, or whoever he wanted. The family system was dying and Tommy wasn’t going to miss it.
Putting his car in drive, Tommy began to wonder how Stephanie had known that he was at DeGuardo’s house. As he stepped on the brake to put the car in park, he felt the wire around his neck and his world went black. It took almost four minutes for Tommy to die. Before his killer exited the car, a roll of cash was stuffed in his mouth.
(Bio: Dylan Todd is a writer from Oklahoma. He is a father of six. He enjoys gritty characters and settings.)