HIT MEN HAVE FEELINGS TOO
by Edward Daniel Hunt
Boston’s North End
After dropping his boss, Albee, at home in Milton, Tony Gazzo returned to the North End. Albee Parillo after becoming more successful had moved to Milton away from this Italian conclave. He told Tony he wasn’t needed tomorrow and that he would be spending time with his family. Tony’s schedule was somewhat unpredictable, but for the most part he worked the hours Albee worked, picking him up in the morning and dropping him off at night. Tony was mostly a bodyguard, an enforcer and a driver but he was trusted with other assignments as well. He was often the one to give others in the crew assignments. If he said it, they knew it was coming from Albee.
Tony got along with the rest of the crew but really wasn’t close to them. He really didn’t make friends. He kept to himself. He did have one redeeming quality that Albee valued very highly, he was loyal to Albee, willing to die for loyal. Not something you come across every day.
On the way back in the car from Jamaica Plain, Albee talked about his concerns with some of their “business” partners and the possible exposure they might have if as rumored there may be a federal investigation underway. Albee wouldn’t be sharing this unless he thought Tony was going to have to get involved. He didn’t need to say that, Tony understood. Albee stressed how delicate the situation was and in how many areas they and their partners had and have some common interests. Hopefully they could clean up their own mess but Albee wasn’t betting on it.
Tony was one of the few people Albee confided in. He knew anything said would never go any further and he knew he didn’t have to explain it in too much detail; Tony would get it.
Driving in the North End was always challenging, but even more so when something was going on at the TD Garden. It was summer so no Celtics or Bruins but there was a full concert schedule. Tony remained calm, there was no place he had to be and no time he had to be there. Utilizing a narrow side street he finally got to the small parking lot behind the commercial building where he parked for free. Albee had arranged it and he wasn’t sure of the exact ownership but somehow Albee was involved.
His apartment was three buildings down on the third floor above a small coffee shop that was open late. The apartment was small but expensively furnished. Typical male décor with leather furniture and dark woods and a seventy inch large screen television. It was always neat and extremely clean with gleaming hard wood floors and well maintained oriental carpets. No one was allowed to enter the apartment when he wasn’t home. He cleaned it himself and had an elaborate alarm system. He really didn’t have anything valuable and except for two hidden hand guns. There was nothing incriminating in the apartment. He had several safe deposit boxes in local banks under various names where he did have a lot of money and valuables stashed. He also owned a small cabin in New Hampshire under an alias that even Albee wasn’t aware of. He had enough money stashed in multiple accounts that if he had to make a quick exit he was prepared.
Instead of going directly upstairs he decided to eat downstairs. He sat at the counter as was his habit. Gina always worked the counter and the other waitresses worked the floor. In addition to working the counter, she handled the cash register. The owner, Louie trusted her and no one else. They were related somehow. She was the only waitress tonight. The restaurant wasn’t busy but she was. She was always in motion, finding something to clean or organize during down times.
Without being asked, Gina poured him a cup of black coffee and placed it in front of him. She nodded at him in response to his smile. She wasn’t attractive. Tall, skinny, with pockmarked skin, she always kept her long wild hair tied back when she was working. She rarely said much and never smiled. He knew she was on some sort of medication and he knew when they were adjusting the dosage because she would mumble to herself. She would probably be unemployable anywhere else or at least anywhere where customer contact was required.
There wasn’t much on the menu, a few sandwiches and a few daily specials scrawled on a blackboard. Most people just came in for the coffee and the Italian pastries.
“Still have some beef stew.” She said this without looking up from under the counter where she was rearranging the condiments. She knew he liked the stew. She looked up long enough to see him nod which prompted her to set him up with a napkin and silverware.
He watched her walk away to go get his stew. Tony Gazzo wasn’t attractive either. He was big and intimidating with very pronounced features. A large nose and big lips with a receding hairline. Close to forty he could easily pass for much older. He knew he scared people which was a plus in his work but he really didn’t understand why he scared people when he was trying not to.
His personal life was pretty limited. To meet his sexual needs he had brief hookups with strippers and other professionals who were afraid to say no to him. He knew they were afraid but he had never forced them and if they truly acted reluctant he backed off. His needs were minimal so it wasn’t that much of a hardship.
Most of his time not working was spent by himself watching Netflix and HBO. He liked the “Game of Thrones.” He also liked to read westerns. Mostly Louis L’Amour.
The other waitresses pretty much ignored Gina; they talked with her about work related issues but never anything else. They didn’t seem to be trying to be mean or hurtful, they just didn’t have anything in common with her. Gina acted like she didn’t take notice but Tony was sure that she did; he knew that she was intelligent. During slow times she sat on a stool near the register reading books.
Most people from the neighborhood who came into the restaurant gave Tony his space. Rarely did anyone sit on the stools right next to him, and even those he knew would only nod or briefly say hello.
Gina was different, she wasn’t afraid of him. Whether it was because she didn’t highly value the life she lived or she sensed a kindred spirit; she seemed comfortable around him and comfortable saying whatever came into her head. When it was raining she told him he should be wearing his raincoat and offered him her multi-colored umbrella which he politely declined. She also would warn him on what to eat or not to eat. “Stay away from the meatloaf.” No one else in his life talked to him like this or took any interest and he found himself looking forward to it.
He was almost finished with the beef stew and she had refilled his coffee cup without being asked. Tony thanked her and she smiled slightly in return.
Two young wannabe wise guys entered and sat down seven or eight stools away from Tony. Both had said, “Hi, Tony,” on their way in. They lost their swagger when he stared back at them and nodded. They were kind of loud and had probably been drinking but Tony ignored them until they started making comments about Gina.
“Would you?” The shorter one challenged his friend.
“Not even with a bag over her head.” The other one snorted his response spilling his coffee.
“Well, what about in the dark, and nobody else would ever find out?” The short one persisted, well in earshot of Gina.
“Shit no, not even with your dick!” They both laughed at that.
They were still laughing and didn’t even notice Tony until he sat down beside them and took a knife out of his pocket. Snapping open the knife, he pressed the blade into the neck of the last one to speak. “Say something else and I will cut out your tongue before I slit your throat.” Tony said this in a monotone which made it even more frightening. Neither one doubted he would do it.
“Jesus, Tony, we were only screwing around. We didn’t know she was a friend of yours!” The wise guy without the knife pressed to his throat spoke up, the other one was blubbering and couldn’t be understood.
“Leave and don’t come back.” He put the knife away and they both jumped up and headed toward the exit.
Gina had ignored them and continued to keep busy throughout all of this but now she stopped and looked at him. He nodded at her and she nodded back.
Two weeks later he stopped into the Coffee Shop right before closing and ordered coffee. She was the only waitress on again and she was busy restocking the shelves, and refilling salt and pepper shakers and napkin holders. When she was topping off his coffee she hesitated for a moment and then looking at him directly said:”I can come up for a while if you’d like.”
Looking back at her, he considered it and what she possibly meant. “Okay,” he nodded in response.
She brought up some left over pastries and he made a pot of coffee. She looked at all the books on his bookcase and his cd player and his music. She didn’t sit down until he brought her coffee and then they sat together on his leather sofa side by side.
“Do you want to watch something on television?” She asked this picking up the remote not waiting for him to answer. “Is there anything you would like to watch?”
“Not really, you can pick something.” Tony was trying to be agreeable. He was awkward at best in social situations.
She settled for a movie “Our Souls at Night” which wouldn’t have been his first choice. It was a love story about an elderly couple. She explained that she had read the book it was based upon
by Kent Haruf and she had really liked it. He nodded, not really caring what they watched.
He was starting to dose off by the end of the movie. She turned off the television, picked up their coffee cups and plates and brought them to the kitchen.
She came back into the room and bent over and embraced him, saying she should go. He nodded in response and stood up as she picked up her oversized handbag and her sweater.
“Maybe we can do this again Saturday?” she looked at him expectantly.
“Yeah, sure…that’d be good.” He was nodding again.
She kissed him on the cheek.
Providence, Rhode Island
Tony Gazzo hadn’t been back to Providence since before he went to prison; more than seven years ago. Coming back from New York, he had been struggling with the urge to go by the house and see if she was still there. At Albee’s request Tony had made a problem for their friends in New York disappear. It wasn’t the first time and Tony had a reputation for being very good at what he did. Albee always gave him a bonus for this kind of work but Tony would have done it for nothing.
Tony stayed away from Providence, too much history. He had done a lot of damage here, on his own and on Albee’s behalf. Providence had been his home. Tony really didn’t have any emotional ties to Providence or to any other place. In actuality he didn’t really have any emotional ties to anyone or anything. Something with this woman from his past that he couldn’t explain. Maybe something with Gina, he didn’t know yet. Probably the closest tie he had was his connection to Albee and that was forged years ago when Albee aligned with a faction that was battling a group that included the man that Tony held responsible for killing his father. His father was a small time bookie and while he wasn’t able to articulate his feelings, he felt something when his father had been gunned down coming out of a Chinese restaurant. Tony was only fifteen and was on his own after that. His mother had died during childbirth and it had always been just his father and him with a hired housekeeper or two. He was always different but his father seemed somewhat oblivious to the fact and accepted him the way he was. His father got really angry whenever anyone suggested that there was anything wrong with him. At school some therapist diagnosed him as possibly having some form of highly functioning autism but his father wasn’t having any part of that. Tony was always a big kid and strong and the few kids who made fun of him paid a price. At thirteen he beat a fifteen year old badly enough that he needed to be hospitalized and even his father couldn’t keep him from being sent off to Sockanossett, the youth reform facility in Cranston. He was still there when his father got on the bad side of someone better connected and was shot down in the street. Tony showed no reaction when he was told, but immediately began planning his retribution.
He bided his time and at the age of eighteen started working for a friend of his father doing odds and ends. It didn’t take long before he was given some additional responsibilities as an enforcer and driver for his boss who trusted him. Not long after that the same local crew that had encroached on his father’s territory started leaning on his boss. Tony volunteered to eliminate his father’s killer and make a statement while doing so. This was his first hit and it established his reputation, especially when the man’s head turned up in a dumpster owned by his boss’s rival.
They were still badly outnumbered and probably wouldn’t have survived if his boss hadn’t established an alliance with Albee. It was a violent couple of years, even for Providence, with killings taking place all over the city including Federal Hill, the Italian stronghold once always thought to be a safe neighborhood. The violence became commonplace and somewhat accepted and a small Italian restaurant on Atwells Avenue became popular after a sanctioned hit took place in a booth near the front door. Customers would request that booth and be willing to wait. Providence was always a very tolerant city with corrupt politicians being forgiven for their crimes and sometimes reelected. Albee recognized Tony’s potential and took him under his wing. Albee was smart enough to treat Tony as you would any explosive; useful in certain situations but needing to be handled with extreme care.
Providence wasn’t the same city today, with tourists now visiting a much safer Federal Hill, eating at sidewalk cafes and purchasing traditional Italian pastries and other desserts.
Prostitution wasn’t even legal anymore. For years it wasn’t a priority due to the lack of specific laws and codes for prosecution. Street hookers were harassed and picked up occasionally in the neighborhoods but for the most part ignored when they lined up outside the old railroad station. A small hotel on Washington Street was once known for its large number of prostitutes hanging out in the bar. Rooms were let by the hour, not the day. Today it was now low income housing helping to provide homes for some of the city’s homeless.
Tony didn’t know what to expect when he pulled up in front of the large old Victorian. It badly needed a coat of paint. Just off Prairie Avenue in South Providence, the neighborhood had changed too, from a mostly black population when Tony was growing up to a mixed neighborhood including Asians and Hispanics. Always a poor and violent area, it still attracted immigrants as a place to get a start or a foothold but also street gangs fighting to protect their turf. Tony did feel a connection to the woman in the house, somewhat protective. If asked he wouldn’t be able to explain his feelings.
He was just about to get out of the car when his phone began vibrating. Tony rarely got calls but had expected this one. He could tell by Albee’s voice he was pleased.
“Our friends in New York were very appreciative of your assistance. Will you be back tonight?”
“Dunno, stopping in Providence.”
“OK. Talked to our partners. They are in agreement that maybe we should get involved with that thing I’ve been worried about. Has to be handled very carefully. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“All right. I’ll be back early.” Albee had already briefed him on what he wanted him to do. Albee had had also stressed that he should minimize the violence. He would try but things happen.
He sat in the car for a few more minutes staring at the house. When he was a boy he had come here with his father at least once a week. Often they would stay overnight. The women here were kind to him and he would often bring some toys with him when he was small. He would wait in a room off the main parlor and they would check in on him and bring him snacks from time to time and marvel on how well behaved and quiet he was. If they weren’t staying over his father would come out after a few hours and they would go home. If they were staying, she would come out and get him and bring him back to her room. His father would already be asleep on one side of her bed with the blankets and sheets in disarray. She would climb in beside him and pat the place next to her. Laying down next to her, she would cover him up. He remembered falling asleep smelling faint traces of her perfume with her arms wrapped tightly around him. This was the only woman he could remember his father ever being with.
Knocking on the door, it only took a few seconds before it opened, someone must have been watching the street. A young, pretty, dark skinned woman stood smiling at him, stepping back to let him enter. She led him into what used to be called the parlor. It was late and only a few women remained. The room hadn’t changed much with its old fashioned furniture and floor length velvet drapes. The wingback sofa and chairs looked like they may have been reupholstered, he couldn’t tell, but the furniture was in good condition. There were a few scratches on the end tables and the coffee table. The only significant change was now the women were of multiple races and not just black.
The woman who let him in turned and still smiling addressed him. She had one hand on her hip. “How can we help you, sweetie?”
“Nessie? Nessie don’t do no business! She’s what you call management.” She was laughing when she said it.
An older woman who recognized him from before spoke up. “She’ll see him, tell her Tony is here.” The serious tone of her voice made it clear it wasn’t up for discussion. The younger woman shrugged and left the room.
Tony stood patiently waiting and no one invited him to sit down. He was aware as always that he was scaring them, and again, without intending to. They were relieved when Vanessa entered the room. She smiled at him and he actually smiled back.
“Long time, Tony.”
“Long time.” Tony stood there looking her over. A tall attractive black woman, she had aged well. Her hair was all gray now and she seemed a little curvier but not really fat. She had to be at least sixty.
She knew better than to hug him in public so she took him by the hand and led him back to her room.
Her room was larger than the others and had a sitting area and a small kitchenette. Several prints depicting the ocean were on the wall.
“Coffee?” He nodded in response and she poured him a cup from a half full coffee pot not having to ask him how he took it. She didn’t bother to offer him something stronger; she knew he didn’t drink.
They sat on the small sofa together and she talked while he listened, nodding from time to time and occasionally offering one or two word comments. She talked about people they both knew and about things from the past and about her life now.
“Do you need anything, are they treating you all right?” This was the first thing of any significance Tony had said and she smiled in response.
“No, honey, I’m fine. They leave me alone but how about you? Are you hungry? I could make you something.”
“No, thanks. I stopped and ate on the highway.”
“Are you staying over? You look tired.” She looked genuinely concerned.
“I’d like to.”
“Come on.” She reached out and took his hand again and he followed her to her bed. She was already in a low cut nightgown and climbed in and patted the place beside her.
He slowly undressed putting his shoes under the bed and folding his clothes neatly and placing them on a nearby chair. Stripped down to just his boxer shorts he climbed in with his back towards her. She wrapped her arms around him tightly and within minutes he was fast asleep.
About the Author:
Edward Daniel Hunt has a B.S. from the University of New Haven and M.S. from Lesley University. He hopes to have his first novel “Penance” published soon. He has recently had short stories published in the Scarlett Leaf Review and Down in the Dirt Magazine. Much of his early work and social life was spent in restaurants and bars as evidenced in his writing. He is a member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and Mystery Writers of America.