| Chapter One|
(Read or print)
He'd gotten a reputation early as a standup guy, back when his name had been Tommy Torelli and his life had been one of crime. He never said much then, even as a kid, but he knew how to show respect and his eyes were vacuum cleaners. always sweeping the street around him and never missing a trick.
It wasn't the sort of thing that wiseguys would neglect to notice.
He knew who they were; it was something you grew up with a total awareness of in Tommy's neighborhood in New York's Little Italy. He'd watch from the window of his tenement apartment building on Mulberry Street as they pulled their cars up to the curb in front of the candy store, young Tommy's eyes wide as the men double-parked on the narrow street, waving their keys to the uniformed cops if one happened to be around.
Tourists in rented cars would sometimes honk at these violent men and they'd turn their massive bellies toward the sounds of the horns and glare until the car passed by.
Sometimes they'd kick out at it as the car passed them, their faces expressing their rage at the insult, showing too their supreme confidence, an utter lack of fear which Tommy had admired. It was one of the reasons that he began to worship them; how easily and shamelessly they were allowed to express their anger, how they had nothing to fear because they themselves were fearsome.
He certainly wasn't ever allowed to show that he was upset. Tommy had learned to deal with it by living up in his head, staring out the window of the fifth floor walk-up apartment they rented in the filthy red brick building, imagining himself to be a man of respect.
Tommy looking down through the rusted stairs of the fire escape that was attached to the front of his building, fantasizing, wanting to be like them. Right there outside his bedroom window, his father having put him there because the window faced the noisy street. His parents had a bedroom with a window that was six inches away from the building next door. Tommy knew that the residents with kids threw their diapers down that airshaft, and figured that he'd gotten the better of the deal. He wouldn't have minded the stink; this building always stunk. He thought he'd come out on top of the matter because he was able to look down at the wiseguys.
The candy store building itself was painted dark green, the paint slapped on haphazardly, streaks apparent in the finish. The store had not ever been meant to be a place where tourists were supposed to feel welcome. There were two large picture windows facing the streets, one on either side of the mostly always open door. Inside the window on the right was a statue of Jesus Christ, red blood painted onto the wounds of his hands and his feet. Christ was holding those hands out wide, showing the viewer how badly he'd been fucked over, a look of incredible pain on his face. Inside the window on the left stood a statue of Christ's mother, Holy Mary smiling benevolently, her hands, too, spread out wide, a rosary dangling from one of them. Beneath her feet was a brightly colored, long-fanged dying snake.
It was not the sort of window display that caused a passerby to wander into the store to see what they could buy. They weren't wanted inside, where the gangsters were. If some thickheaded tourist idiot still didn't get the hint, there were always two old and smelly men sitting at a table right inside the doorway, wearing colorless wrinkled suits, drinking coffee and glaring out at the sidewalk. It was the retirement plan for old buttonmen, those few who managed to get through their lives being neither whacked nor pinched and sent away for life.
Sometimes at night a group of them would be hanging out in front getting rowdy, and Tommy would watch, mimicking their movements, the inflections in their voices, until a tall, fat middle-aged man came over to the door and looked out at them with a passive face that told none of his many secrets. Tommy would study that face in the seconds it took for the man's presence to be felt by the gang, trying to see if the man was happy or sad, angry or pleased. It was a question that was never settled in his mind, not even years later, when the man became his friend. As soon as they saw him the wiseguys would fall silent, and Tommy would sit there, staring in awe.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew who those guys were, and most of the neighbors were in some way in their debt. They used the mob bookie, or they loaned money from the sharks; the local mob chief was the guy you saw when you needed a favor from the city or when you wanted to settle a beef.
Tommy's mother would buy meat and fish and vegetables from them, making her purchases off the back of the truck that would come around every Saturday morning, laden with goods that the neighborhood residents could purchase at a price that was better than the local markets.
The wiseguys were the only people Tommy knew who could do whatever they wanted, and nobody ever gave them a problem.
They'd be there in the smoke-filled back room of the candy store, those gangsters, paying Tommy fivers to run their errands for them and to park or wash their cars, Tommy working after school for them ever since he turned ten years old and one of them'a man who would die before Tommy turned eleven'for some reason took a liking to him.
Legbreakers and bodyguards, buttonmen and killers, numbers bankers and payroll lawyers would be crowded around wooden tables, talking softly amongst themselves.