Authors: Lawrence Sanders
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction, #Short Stories
“Sex is dead. Money is the sex of our time.”
AKE STEINER, A CRUDE
and growly man, slams down his fork. “What
this shit?” he demands.
“It’s fettucini primavera, pa,” Sally says. “Martha made the pasta herself, and all the spring vegetables are fresh. Try it; you’ll like it.”
“I won’t try it, and I won’t like it. Whatever happened to a nice brisket and a boiled potato?”
“You know what the doctor told you about that,” his daughter says, then jerks a thumb at his tumbler of whiskey and water. “And about
“Screw the doctor,” Jake says wrathfully. “There are more old drunks than old doctors.”
He gets up from the table, stalks over to the marble-topped sideboard, takes a cigar from a humidor. He bites off the cigar tip and spits it into a crystal ashtray.
“I’ll pick up something to eat later,” he says. “I gotta go out.”
“Yeah,” Sally says. “To Ozone Park. It’s payoff night. Those fucking bandits.”
“Watch your mouth,” he says sharply. “Act like a lady; talk nice.”
She finishes her fettucini, watching as he scrapes a kitchen match across the marble slab and lights his cigar.
“I gotta import these matches from Florida,” he tells her. “You can’t buy scratch-anywhere matches around here. Would you believe it?” He puffs importantly, twirling the cigar in his heavy lips. “What are you doing tonight?”
“I’m going up and sit with ma awhile. Give Martha a chance to have some dinner and clean up.”
“I thought I’d drive into New York and take in a movie. There’s a new Woody Allen.”
“Bullshit,” her father says. “You’re going to see that fairy brother of yours. Well, don’t give him my love.”
“Believe me,” Sally says, “he can live without it.”
They glare at each other, then Jake pushes back the sliding glass door and stamps out onto the tiled terrace to smoke his cigar, taking his whiskey glass with him.
Sally goes up to her mother’s bedroom on the second floor. Martha is feeding the invalid. Rebecca Steiner’s hands and lower legs are so crippled with rheumatoid arthritis that she cannot walk, cannot hold a spoon.
“How was dinner, ma?” Sally asks.
“Delicious,” Becky says, smiling brightly. “And I’ll bet your father wouldn’t take even a little taste.”
“You’d win your bet. Martha, why don’t you go down and have your dinner. I’ll sit with ma for a while.”
The old black woman nods. “There’s a nice piece of strawberry cheesecake, Miz Steiner,” she says to the woman in the wheelchair. “Just the way you like it.”
Sally leans over her mother. “How about the cheesecake?” she asks.
“Well, maybe just a bite. I hate to disappoint Martha; she works so hard.”
“Ho-ho,” Sally says. “If I know you, you’ll finish the whole slice. Come on now, open wide.”
She feeds the cheesecake to Rebecca, then holds the mug of coffee close so her mother can sip through a straw.
“You’re going out tonight?” Becky asks. “It’s Saturday. You got maybe a date?”
“Nah, ma. I’m driving over to New York to see Eddie.”
“That’s nice. You’ll give him my love?”
“Of course. Don’t I always?”
“Listen, Sally, in New York you’ll be careful?”
“I’m always careful. I can take care of myself, ma; you know that.”
They watch the evening news on television, and then sit gossiping about an aunt who is on her third husband and has recently taken up with a beach boy in Hawaii.
Rebecca Steiner is shocked, but Sally says, “Let her have her fun; she can afford it.”
Martha comes back up, carrying her knitting, and she and Mrs. Steiner settle down for a night of television. Then, at eleven o’clock, Rebecca will be put to bed, and Martha will retire to her own bedroom to read the Bible.
“Dad still downstairs?” Sally asks her.
“Oh, yeah,” Martha says. “Stomping up and down and cursing.”
“Sure. What else.”
She goes downstairs to find her father pulling on his leather trench coat. He has a fresh, unlighted cigar clamped between his teeth.
“How is she?” he asks.
“Why don’t you go up occasionally and take a look?” Sally says angrily.
“I can’t take it,” her father says, groaning. “I see her like that, and I remember …”
“Yeah, well, she’s the same; no change.”
He nods and tugs down a floppy tweed cap. “It’s chilling off out there, Sal. Wear a coat.”
“I will, pa.”
“You want a lift?”
“No, I’ll take my car.”
“You got your pistol?”
“In the glove compartment.”
“You get in trouble, don’t be afraid to use it.”
“I’ll use it. Pa, watch your back with those ginzos.”
“Listen, when I can’t handle momsers like that, I’ll be ready for Mount Zion.”
Suddenly, unexpectedly, he comes close to touch her cheek with his fingertips.
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” he says, looking into her eyes.
“I’m surviving,” Sally Steiner says.
“Yeah,” he says. “See you tomorrow, kiddo. Don’t take any wooden nickels.”
She watches from the window until he drives away in his black Cadillac Eldorado. Then she struggles into a long sweater coat that cost a week’s salary at one of those Italian boutiques on Madison Avenue. She backs her silver Mazda RX-7 out of the three-car garage. She checks the glove compartment to make certain the loaded pistol is there, then heads for Manhattan.
Jake Steiner drives from Smithtown into Ozone Park. He parks in front of a narrow brick building, windows painted black. There is a small sign over the doorway:
THE MIAMI FISHING AND SOCIAL CLUB.
Jake gets out of his Cadillac, knowing the hubcaps are safe. There is no thievery on this street. And no muggings, no littering, no graffiti. Maybe the cops drive through once a week, but the locals take care of everything.
There are a few geezers in the front room, playing cards and drinking red wine. They don’t look up when the door opens. But the mastodon behind the bar eyeballs Steiner and pours a waterglass of whiskey, splash of water, no ice. Jake pulls out a fat roll of bills, peels off a twenty, hands it over.
“For your favorite charity,” he says.
“Yeah,” the bartender says, and moves his head toward the back room.
Steiner carries his whiskey through a doorway curtained with strings of glass beads, most of them chipped or broken. There is one round wooden table back there, surrounded with six chairs that look ready to collapse at the first shout. The tabletop has a big brownish stain in the center. It could be a wine spill or it could be a blood spill; Jake doesn’t know and doesn’t wonder.
Two men are sitting there: Vic Angelo and his underboss and driver, Mario Corsini. They’ve got a bottle of Chivas Regal between them, and their four-ounce shotglasses are full. Only Vic gets to his feet when Steiner enters. He spreads his arms wide.
“Jew bastard,” he says, grinning.
“Wop sonofabitch,” Jake says.
They embrace, turning their heads carefully aside so they won’t mash their cigars. They look alike: short, porky through chest and shoulders, with big bellies, fleshy faces, manicures, and pinkie rings.
“Hiya, Mario,” Jake says.
“How’s the family?” Angelo asks, pulling out a chair for Jake.
“Couldn’t be better. Yours?”
“Likewise, thank God. So here we are again. A month gone by. Can you believe it?”
“Yeah,” Steiner says, taking a gulp of his drink, “I can believe it.”
He tugs a white envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket and slides it across the table to Angelo.
“My tax return,” he says.
Vic smiles and pushes the envelope to Corsini. “I don’t even have to count it,” he says. “I trust you. How long we been good friends, Jake?”
“Too long,” Steiner says, and Mario Corsini stirs restlessly.
“Yeah, well, we got a little business to discuss here,” Angelo says, sipping his scotch delicately. “Like they say, good news and bad news. I’ll give you the bad first. We’re upping your dues two biggies a month.”
Steiner slams a meaty fist down on the table. It rocks; their drinks slop over.
“Two more a month?” he says. “What kind of shit is this?”
“Take it easy,” Vic Angelo says soothingly. “Everyone in Manhattan and Brooklyn is getting hit for another grand.”
“But I get hit for two? That’s because I’m such a good friend of yours—right?”
“Don’t be such a fucking firecracker,” Vic says. He turns to his underboss. “He’s a firecracker, ain’t he, Mario?”
“Yeah,” Corsini says. He’s a saber of a man, with a complexion more yellowish than olive.
“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you the good news,” Angelo says to Steiner. “We’re giving you a new territory. South of where your dump is now. Along Eleventh Avenue to Twenty-third Street.”
“Yeah?” Jake says suspiciously. “What happened to Pitzak?”
“He retired,” Vic says.
“Where to? Forest Lawn?”
“I don’t like jokes like that,” Corsini says. “It’s not respectful.”
“What the fuck do I care what you like or don’t like,” Steiner says. He swallows whiskey. “So the bottom line is that my tariff goes up two Gs, and I get Eleventh Avenue down to Twenty-third Street. Right?”
“And all the garbage you can eat,” Corsini says.
“Listen, sonny boy,” Jake says. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You’re drinking Chivas Regal. That’s where it comes from—my garbage.”
“Hey hey,” Angelo says. “Let’s talk like gentlemen. So you start on Monday, Jake. You can handle the business?”
“Maybe I’ll need a new truck or two. Let me see how much there is.”
“You need more trucks,” Vic says, “don’t buy new ones. We can give you a good deal on Pitzak’s fleet.”
“Oh-ho,” Steiner says. “It’s like that, is it?”
“That’s the way it is,” Corsini says. “You take over Pitzak’s district, you take over his trucks. From us.”
“I love you wise guys,” Jake says. “You got more angles than worms.”
“If you’re shorting,” Angelo says gently, “we can always make you a loan to buy the trucks. Low vigorish.”
“Thanks for nothing,” Steiner says bitterly. “I wouldn’t touch your loans with my schlong. I’ll manage.”
“One more thing,” Vic says. “We want you to take on a new man. He’s been over from the old country six months now. Strictly legit. He’s got his papers and all that shit. A good loader for you. A nice young boy. He’ll work hard, and he’s strong.”
“Yeah?” Jake says. “He speaka da English?”
“As good as you and me,” Angelo assures him.
“What about the union?”
“It’s fixed,” Vic says. “No problem.”
“If I’m taking over Pitzak’s organization,” Steiner says, “what do I need a new man for?”
“Because he’s my cousin,” Mario Corsini says.
They drain their drinks, and Jake rises.
“It’s been a lovely evening,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
He nods at them and marches out, leaving his empty whiskey glass and chewed cigar butt on the table.
“I don’t trust that scuzz,” Mario says, filling their shotglasses with scotch. “He’s got no respect.”
“He’s got his problems,” Vic says. “A crippled wife. A fag son. And his daughter—who the hell knows what she is. What a house he’s going home to.”
“Only he ain’t going home,” Corsini says. “He’s going to Brooklyn. He keeps a bimbo on Park Slope. He bought a co-op for her.”