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Copyrighted Material


This is a work of fiction. While some events and characters may be based in some part on real news events, the names, characters, places, and incidents herein either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


® 2016 Writers Guild of America

Copyright © 2016 by Michael Hughes


All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the author constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If You would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the author at m.c.hughes@rogers.com.


First edition: April 2016




Joey Blanks:

Budget Hit Man



A Romantic Mob Comedy



Stupidity on a level like we

ain’t never gonna see again!”

- Tony ‘The Big Cannoli’ Cannoli




Michael C. Hughes









Note to readers:

The following is a short story version of my original screenplay of the same name. For purposes of this short story format I have added the voice of an connected old mob guy known as LaBin, ‘The Dumpster.’ We may retain this Voice Over in the film version. To be determined.


For those interested, following this short story is the screenplay version from which it was written.






Joey Blanks: Budget Hit Man



Chapter 1


Okay. So, there was this joint over in Jersey City we used to hang at. Frankie Provolone’s. Just Frankie’s to us. Back then, they called Jersey City Chilltown. You’re just across the river and out of the craziness of all the crap going on over in Manhattan. But you could still see it. It’s right there. You could sit back, have a brew and chill. Watch the other rats run the race for a while.

I myself was part of a crew then, but I had to be careful what I said around these guys. Not so much what I said but how I said it. These were guys that murdered the language in brutal ways and were happy to do so. They made up their own language. Italian English. English mashed up any way you wanted. Problem for a guy like me who actually got past grade six was that we sometimes used fancy words or correct English. In my case, I actually graduated high school and got in a coupla years of college. So I had to be real careful. The wrong word the wrong way could get a guy killed. They start thinking you’re some sorta fancy outsider East Coast Ivy League Bureau informer rat.

Anyway, these days I’m retired from the Life, so what do I care now? I spend most of my time in Miami. On the shuffleboard court or betting the dogs. A while ago I went back to the old stomping grounds and dropped in at Frankie’s. But it wasn’t the same. What the hell is? Cheesy wine bottles for candle holders. The bar all polished and lined with fancy padded barstools. Floor clean. No smoking. A real yuppie haven. Millennials, Gen-Xers. Whatever.

So it’s all changed except for Frankie himself. He’s still ticking. Still keeps one eye locked on the cash till and only moves three feet away from it in any direction. Still takes in and counts every dime himself. He pours me a beer—charges me for it—and happens to mention a guy I’d forgotten all about. Joey Blanks.

Now there was a guy.

No one like him. An total original. And everyone liked the kid, but talk about stupid! On a level like we ain’t gonna see again in our lifetimes. Spec-tactular. But that screw-up factor was what gave Joey a role in the organization. Like everyone had to have.

Talking with Frankie took me back to the day Joey’s walking along the sidewalk down in Amboy, headed to La Casa Radicchio. A class joint. It’s a sunny day in Jersey. This is down in Perth Amboy, which is mid state and right on the ocean. Actually South Amboy, which is south of the…anyways, point is Joey’s headed to La Casa and Vince Capellini and Big Angie are in there waiting.

They told me the whole thing.

Classic Joey.



Chapter 2


As Joey’s heading to the place there’s this gorgeous gal dressed real expensive walking along with a large fancy dog. An Afghan or Iranian or somethin’. Whatever. Anyway, the dog stops and dumps a big steaming load right on the pavement. This woman, she searches her pockets and purse, but she’s brought no scoop bags. So she gets all huffy and stomps away with the dog in tow. Leaves the big pile of dog crap right in the middle of the sidewalk.

Joey’s a tall, thin, bundle of nuthin but raw nerves and energy. Earnest like a little kid, but serious as well. Always had this set look of determination on his face that never got him nowhere. And he walked with this kind of swagger like he was a somebody. Looked ridiculous. Anyway, he rounds the corner. He’s in a white shirt and tan pinstripe suit. Nice shoes. Dressed sharp. Mob chic they called it. Everyone wanting to look like Lucky or Bugsy from back in the heydays. The Forties. Around his neck he’s got this wooden cross on an old chain. Gift from his dad, Joey’s hero. He kissed that cross every day for luck. Never brung him much.

Anyway, he sees this gal coming and he steps aside like he’s Sir Galahad or something’ and makes this dopey ‘Well hulloo’ comment and he steps right in the fresh mound of dog dump. He curses—“Aw crap!”—and does his best to scrape it off on the sidewalk, but it don’t all come off. But he don’t notice ‘cause he’s too busy cursing and his head’s always a million miles away anyway. So, up he goes, up the steps to the restaurant.

He steps in, looks around, and spots Vince. And what’s the dopey fazool do? Act cool? Throw Vince a discreet little nod or hand signal?

No.

He waves and yells!

“Vince. Hey, Vince! I’ll be right over.”

Now he and Angie are exposed, right? And who knows who’s watching who in this place?

So Big Angie, he ducks and looks all around, their private corner blown.

“What the hell’s he’s doin’?”

“Just watch,” Vince says, and he’s got this crooked little half smile.



The maitre d’ approaches Joey to take his coat, a nice looking summer weight Zegna trench coat. Khaki. Sharp looking. Joey’s got it over his arm so he hands it over and there’s this small coat room just inside the entrance and, as the man goes to hang up the coat, the hanger falls. So he bends to pick it up.

As he does that, Joey’s spotted another attractive dame.

This one’s on her way across the carpeting to the front door and Joey does another double-take. This guy couldn’t pass a dame without double takes. Practically dislocates his neck on a weekly basis. Anyway, he steps back, making room and also making a theatrical little bow and he bumps butts with the maitre d’. This fires the poor guy right into the coat rack like a missile, and he brings down the whole row of coats with this soft WHUMP.

The woman, she sees this and stops. What the hell’s up? But Joey’s oblivious to the damage he’s done. He steps over to the other side, makes another swooping motion with his arm and another little bow. This time he bumps the mahogany maitre d’ stand. It topples over onto the plush broadloom two inches deep with another soft WHUMP, and little round white mints spray everywhere.

The woman sees the carnage Joey has caused. So, she skitters quickly past him and he follows her out the door, to the front steps so’s he can watch her walk up the street. He’s got no idea that, behind him, a waiter has walked into the area with a tray of luncheon plates balanced on his shoulder. He hits a clump of mints, like little ball bearings, his feet shoot out and he slams onto his back, food and drinks coming down everywhere. Pasta dripping off everything. It was nuts.

But Joey don’t care. He don’t even know he’s single-handedly destroyed the entire front half of the joint. He just heads back inside in his own world.

Vince looks over at Big Angie.

“Hanh? Did I tell you he was beautiful? You can’t train guys to do this stuff.”



Chapter 3


Now, Vince Capellini, this guy you also had to see. Always well dressed. No. More than well dressed. Fussy and flashy. Pink shirts, sugar cube sized gold cufflinks, oxblood loafers. The kind with the little tassels. Gets his nails manicured, his hair permed, his pleats pressed. The whole deal. Like some sort of male fashion model. Or a woman. Had to wonder about the guy. Anyway, they’re having this power lunch.

So, Vince turns to Angie and says, “So, that’s it? You telling me there’s no way around this thing?”

Big Angie was this big overstuffed sausage of a guy outta Staten Island. From Fresh Kills. Talk about a perfect name for the world’s biggest dump and to be Angie’s place of birth. Irony so thick you could spread it like ricotta. And that was Angie too. Thick. Arms and legs so thick they practically popped the threads on his suits. An enforcer.

Anyways, Angie says, “I know Tony’s a liked guy around here, but I’m telling ya. Either yous guys do it, or we’ll handle it from downtown.”

Vince has to swallow that, but it’s really not that hard to swallow because what Downtown says is what goes. No discussion and no debates. Vince would rather off his brother than buck Downtown.

“Yeah, fine,” Vince says. “We’ll handle it. I’ll put Joey on it.”

“Joey?” Angie says. “This guy here?” he says and points to dumb-as-a-brick Joey, still trying to plead for his life with the wait staff.

Course Angie didn’t spend much time in Jersey. Just came down that day to deliver the news to Vince. Those days, he hardly went anywhere south of Canal. Lived up on the West Side, in the Sixties. Irishtown. Hells Kitchen. Preferred that to living with his own. His attitude was, the Irish are so stupid they got a grudge against you you’re gonna see them coming from three blocks. Not like our own who’d slip the knife in over dessert.

Anyway, Vince says, “Yeah. That’s Joey Blanks. Paulie the Man’s idiot nephew.”

“Big Paulie? Who passed last year?”

“Yeah. You don’t know about Joey?”

Big Angie shakes his head.

Vince leans in. “Last time, remember when Downtown said we was supposed to whack Ritzy Risotto?”

“Ritzy never got whacked. He moved back to the old country.”

“Yeah. Right. That’s because we put Joey on the case. We tell him that Ritzy has to go and he says, ‘Oh, no. Not Ritzy Risotto,’ like he actually knew the guy or sumthin’. What a yutz! Anyways, he agrees to take the hit on a deep discount. Normally, we put out a hit like that at what? Twenty, thirty grand? Well, we haggled Joey down a bit. He took it for twelve hundred bucks.”

“Twelve hundred bucks!” Big Angie almost yelled it out. “Who’d do a hit for twelve hundred bucks? That’s nuts.”

“That’s Joey. Certified moron. Anyways, we tell him Ritzy arrives home every day at seven and to wait in the shadows by the garage and plug him when he pulls up. We just don’t tell him about the dog.”

“What about the dog?”

“That’s what Joey said later.” Vince makes this dopey voice, imitating Joey: “You guys shoulda told me about the dog.” Chuckles at the memory. Tries to speak without cracking up. “Ritzy has this insane Doberman. He keeps this dog chained beside the house. But it can’t bark and it can’t growl. It can only attack. So Joey goes to the house and waits. First, he walks into this big spider’s web hanging down and goes into this moronic dance, flailing his arms around and ducking and bobbing. Then he hears this noise behind him. It’s this monster dog. Joey starts to backpedal like he’s at the circus and falls on his butt just as the dog jumps at him. It hits the end of the chain and is hanging over him, kinda suspended in midair but snapping away. Funny as hell the way Joey tells it. Was practically crying. Anyways, he scrambles outta there but his gun drops. Now this insane dog’s standing over his piece. Ritzy drives round the corner and Joey has to high-tail it out of there.”

Vince is laughing under his breath, trying to stop. His eyes start watering.

“So, Ritzy…he sees the gun, realizes the contract’s out and screws off and everybody’s happy. We’re happy Ritzy don’t have to bite the big one. Downtown’s happy Ritzy has removed his-self for good. Plus nobody’s got to pay out a cent because the hit didn’t happen. Joey’s a beauty. Tony’ll come outta this okay. Here he comes.”

Big Angie can only marvel and shake his head. He can see that Tony Canolli was gonna be the Ritzy deal all over again. That these guys had developed this system for saving their own when the word comes down. But Angie don’t care. He’s just the messenger. As long as Tony’s gone from the scene for good.



Chapter 4


As Joey’s crossing the floor he don’t even know he’s leaving this trail of dog crap across their beautiful broadloom. The wait staff are eyeing him all over again like they want to take turns killing him this time.

He arrives at the table and reaches for a chair.

“Hi ya, Vince,” he says. “Okay if I sit down?”

“No, you gotta stand today, kid,” Vince says and Joey freezes.

Then he’s standing there locked, with this goofy, confused look stuck on his face. His hand’s already on the chair. You can see panic running through the guy’s head, his fricking eyes darting around wondering how to get outta this ridiculous situation.

Vince breaks into this big smile and makes this big wave.

“G’waan, you big dope. Course you can sit down. I was just yankin’ your chain.”

Joey laughs this feeble laugh, still hesitant, but he sits.

Joey gives Angie that goofy smile and Angie’s looking at him like he’s from Mars. The waiter comes over and he’s got this look in his eye like he’s drawn the short straw to be the first to take a run at Joey with the carving knife.

But he restrains himself. “Will you be eating, sir?”

Hostility you could cut like prime rib.

Joey looks at Vince and Angie’s plates, now mostly done. Sure, he’s sitting at the table, but he’s not sure that he’s actually been invited to dine with them.

“I’ll just have a water,” he says.

Vince is smiling. Watching him twist. These guys loved toying with him, like a cat with a bird. Made a sport of it.

“Come on, kid. You gotta eat,” he says.

Joey gets that puppy dog look.

“What’d you guys have?”

“Us? We had the surf and turf,” Vince says. “The steak and Atlantic lobster five course.”

That makes Joey gulp and he gets this conflicted look. That’s got to cost a ton of dough and, as usual, he’s broke. He’s gotta decided: should he be cool and stick to water, or go for it?

“Wow. That does sound great,” he says. “I am kind of hungry.” Screw being cool. He is being invited. He decides. “I’ll have what Vince had,” he says.

“Will that be with the wine, or without, sir?” the waiter asks, looking off across the room. Can’t stand setting eyes on him.

Joey looks again to Vince.

Vince walks him in the front door of the slaughterhouse. “G’wan. Go for it, kid.”

“Okay. I’ll have whatever Vince had,” he says.

The waiter does an eye roll and stalks away like he ain’t coming back.

Then Vince starts sniffing around.

“What’s that smell? Smells like shit.”

Joey shuffles his feet under his chair from one side to the other. He gives Vince a blank look.

Vince looks around, briefly, and gives up on it.


Chapter 5

Vince goes back to polishing off his meal. After he shoves in this big mouthful he pokes a fork in Big Angie’s direction.

“So, Joey, this here’s Angie Gnocchi, Big Angie. He’s from downtown and he’s got a bit of bad news about Tony Cannoli.”

That was the Capellini Crew. Everyone had to have pasta names. Thought it was cute as hell.

But Joey’s alarmed.

“About Tony?” he says.

“Yeah. You know Tony got caught selling off some stuff wasn’t his. Actually, lots of stuff wasn’t his. Well, he went too far too often and downtown says this time he’s got to pay. Only Tony, he’s disinclined to pay up.”

“Disinclined?” Joey says, knowing what kind of trouble that means.

“Yeah,” Vince says. “Means like… (he searches for the words)… he don’t want to do it.”

“I know what disinclined means. But is he crazy?”

“Yeah, we believe he is, matter of fact. Anyways, he’s gotta go,” Vince says and drains the last of his wine glass.

“Aw, no,” Joey says. “Not Tony. I love the guy. Jeez, everyone loves the guy.”

“Yeah. He’s a sweetheart. Anyways, we was gonna give you another chance to, you know, make up for that last job you did that didn’t go so good but……”

Joey jumps in. “Vince, you really shoulda told me about the dog……”

Vince and Big Angie exchange glances. Vince smiles.

Joey carries on.“…you can’t hold that one against me. Honestly, Vince, next time I won’t let you guys down.”

“Well, I was gonna give you another shot with Tony, but since you love the guy so much…”

Joey jumps in. “Hey, now, hold on. I did say I kind of like the guy, but if this is, you know, Downtown business, then I’m there for it. I’m a total professional. A hundred per cent. Friends are friends, and business is business. That’s the way I look at it.”

Vince is nodding. “So, then, this is a piece of business you’re maybe interested in?

“Oh, for sure, you know you can count on me,” Joey says and makes another grand sweeping gesture with his arm—he loved them sweeping gestures—and knocks a full glass of water into Big Angie’s lap.

Angie’s eyes bulge from the cold shock.

“Oh, jeez. Sorry,” Joey says and leans over with a napkin and starts dabbing at the water, trying to sop it up from Big Angie’s crotch area. This time Angie looks at Vince like he really is ready to shoot Joey on the spot.

Vince steps in. “Joey, will ya just forget about it.” He snaps his finger and the waiter comes over and handles the mess, bristling with even more hostility toward Joey.

Vince says, “Can we get back to business here? One thing you gotta know, kid, there’s a small snag with the job.”

You can see the concern jump to Joey’s eyes. He’s been round this mulberry bush before.

“Snag? What kind of snag?” he says.

“Well, Tony, he’s such a liked guy and everything—like you just said—that Downtown really don’t have their hearts in it. But they gotta do it. You unnerstand?”

Joey starts making like a bobble head, his head going up and down and around.

“Oh, sure. I understand. Downtown’s gotta do what Downtown’s gotta do. What’s the snag?”

Vince grimaces.

“Well, the budget’s just a bit of a problem on this one again.”

Joey starts dying inside.

“How much of a problem?”

Vince. Another grimace.

“Well, downtown’s really squeezing us. We gotta find someone who takes pride in their craft. You know, wants to take that next big career step. Know what I mean?”

“Oh, sure. I know exactly what you mean. How much is in it?”

Vince makes a rueful face. “This one’s really tight. We’re looking at a total……”

“Yes?”

…“…all expenses in, no extras allowed……

“Yes?”

……“…of maybe something like……”

Joey, half yelling: “Vince, how freakin’ much?”

“Eight hundred bucks, kid.”

Joey does yell.

EIGHT HUNDRED BUCKS??!!”

Big Angie ducks and looks around again as the whole room again turns to stare their way.

Joey, falling to a loud whisper: “Eight hundred bucks? Who can do a pro hit for eight hundred bucks?”

“Hey, you don’t want the work, no problem, big guy. I’ll just tell Downtown you turned ‘em down is all.”

“No, hold it. No. I mean, yes. I mean, sure. I mean, of course I want to work with Downtown…but eight hundred bucks?”

You can see his mind working feverishly. “Can you maybe advance me half up front?” he says. “I promise I’ll pay you back soon’s the job’s done.”

“No way, kid. I ain’t the loans department. Oh, and, by the way, that dough’s only if you complete. If you screw up like last time…”

Joey’s mind’s still racing. He can’t even really afford to take the job. He’s busted and desperate for dough. But they have him in a corner again.

“Vince. You know I’m always there when you guys need me. Yeah, okay, sure,” he says a little discouraged but trying not to show it. “I’ll do Tony. I understand things are a bit tight. No problem. When you want it done?”

“You can start right away,” Vince says, and he and Angie stand.

“Hey, where are you guys goin’?”

“We gotta split, kid,” Vince says. “But listen……do good this time and you’ll get noticed.”

And he makes a wink and little gun-and-trigger motion with his hand and turns to leave.

He stops and turns back. “Oh, and kid. You wanna make a few extra bucks. Swing by Giorgio’s and pick up that suit I got over there.”

Joey’s in shock. He can’t even pay for lunch.

But he says, “Yeah. Sure, Vince.”

Then it’s just Joey at the table.

His meal arrives, along with the bill. Joey picks it up.

Three hundred bucks!” What’s this?”

“The bill, sir.” The waiter says with a barely disguised smirk, a moment he’s really enjoying.

What? Three hundred bucks! For one frickin’ lunch?”

“That’s lunch for three. Sir.” Another restrained smirk.

“I don’t have three hundred bucks! I can’t pay for those guys.”

“You’ll have to take that up with Mr. Vince,” the man says with a faint smile and walks away.


Moments later Joey is at the front of the restaurant, at the checkout counter. He is unbuckling his weapon, which he rolls into a ball in the shoulder holster and plunks into the hands of the maitre d’. The man takes it with a cruel smile.

Joey shoots him a glare.

“You’d better take good care of this till I get back, or you’re gonna be in big trouble, mister.”



Chapter 6


Next day Joey’s cruising the streets of South Amboy with his buddy, an Indian fellow from Bangalor named Bindare Dundat.

They’re in a battered old Dodge Caravan with a portable “Taxi” sign on the roof, a gypsy cab, one of Bindare’s family businesses. Gypsy cabs and used cars. Joey is trying to look out the front window, ducking to see under fuzzy balls hanging down. Screechy Hindi music is playing. Pawn shops are passing by.

Joey points.

“There. That’s the one. Stop in front. These guys are really fast.”

Bindare is surprised.

“Joey, you borrow money from such people as this?”

“What? Me? Borrow from these schmucks? You kidding? Naw, I just gotta throw a scare into a guy. Collect some dough. I’ll be right back.”

Joey steps out and Bindare turns up the screechy music and taps the steering wheel, waiting.

Joey enters the pawn shop and approaches an old guy at the counter . He’s in a rumpled, loose-hanging sweater, and has thick bottle-bottom glasses. He’s leaning on a newspaper. He looks up.

“You again? I told ya already, that stupid stamp collection of yours is worth nothing. Nada. I wouldn’t advance you ten cents on it.”

Joey pulls out a gold-looking wrist watch.

“I’m not here about any chump change stamp collection, pal. Feast your beady little shyster eyes on this baby.”

Joey displays the watch across his arm, like it’s a rare find.

The old guy barely glances at it.

“It’s a fake. I can see that from five feet, and I can’t even see five feet.”

“This Rolex? A fake? No way, man. I paid two grand for it, new. Now that it’s antiqued a bit, it’s gotta be worth even more.”

“When’d you buy it?”

“Last year.”

“Antique’s a hundred years. Besides, it’s a knock-off and you got took. I can give you fifty bucks on it.”

Fifty bucks? I need three hundred!”

“What about that piece you carry? The Colt?”

“A man never surrenders his weapon, pal.”

“Why not? You did last time. I advanced you three hundred on it. That’s how much you need again this time ain’t it? Why not just give me the Colt again?

Joey glances around, glad no one’s around to overhear this embarrassing exchange.

Then he sticks out his hand to show his ring.

The old guy tilts his head back to look through the bifocal part of his glasses.

“Nice. Your boyfriend give it to you?”

“Don’t get smart. It’s from my gal Zoey. I hate to take it off but……(he struggles mightily but finally succeeds and holds it up)…okay, so how much?”

“Three hundred, tops. That’s what you need, right? You argue, the price drops to two fifty. You argue more, the price drops to two bills.”

“You better not be scamming me. You mess with me, you’re messing with Downtown.”

The grumpy old guy looks around.

“What downtown? We are downtown. I’ll advance you three hundred. That’s it, take it, or else get outta my store.”

The man goes over and pulls three hundred dollars from the cash register.

Joey makes a menacing look but slams down the ring, snatches the three hundred, and departs the store.

Back at the van he climbs in.

Bindare says, “You scare the man, Joey?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s well scared. Okay. Let’s get over to La Casa Radicchio. I got me an even bigger score to settle.”

“Oh, Joey, you are a so bad man. What debt are you collecting now?”

“Downtown business, Bindare. I can’t tell ya. But I won’t be long with these cheeseballs.”

Bindare’s cab pulls up in front La Casa and Joey steps out. Bindare’s tapping again to screechy music and waits.

Joey’s in and out in a minute. This time he’s re-holstering his gun as he departs the place.

He climbs back into the old van and Bindare freaks.

“Joey! What happened? Why this gun?”

“I just had to whip a few guys into line, Bindare. No big deal. Let’s just blow this noodle joint.”



Chapter 7


The next day Joey and Bindare are in an old rust belt part of town, all factories, commercial stripmalls, and warehouses.

Joey is on his back and on the asphalt under a late model black Mercedes parked at curbside. It is parked in front of a small two-story cinder block building.

He’s making grunts and groans and curses as he struggles with something. Bindare is standing next to the car, looking around, nervously.

“Joey, hurry up.”

Joey’s cursing and grunting.

“This…stupid…screw…won’t…go…in…”

Thump, bang, crash from under the car.

A final bang.

“There. Finally!” Joey says and slides out, stands up, dusts himself off. When he turns, his back is caked with dirt and grease.

“Okay, let’s go!” he says, and they walk back to the van parked half a block away, and climb in.

They watch the car from the van while Joey fiddles with a little black box on his lap.

Bindare’s not so sure about any of this.

“Are you sure you did it right?” he asks.

Joey snorts as though it’s a stupid question.

“Whaddya think? I’m a professional.” He glances up. “Hey, there’s Tony now, the poor sap.”

Tony Cannoli exits the building and walks to the car. He gets in and pulls away.

Bindare puts the van in drive.

“It is too bad about Mr. Tony. He seems like a nice man.”

“Yeah, but he’s got bad karma, my friend. He’s hosed a lot of people in this town. Besides, nice don’t cut it. In this racket you gotta be smart and ruthless—like a shark.”

“Oh Joey, you are such a shark.”

“That’s right, Bindare. And sharks never rest.”

They tail Tony until they arrive at a deserted industrial stretch of road railway tracks and empty fields to both sides.

Joey sits forward.

“Well, here’s were Tony meets the big Cannoli Maker in the sky.”

He pushes the red button on the little black box, but nothing happens.

He pushes again.

Again nothing happens.

“What the…?”

The little black box is a beaten up looking old thing and who knows where Joey came up with it. Looks World War Two vintage.

Joey’s fighting with the button.

“Why don’t you use your cell phone?” Bindare says.

“I’m just a little bit busy to get on the phone right now, Bindare!”

“No. I mean to set off the bomb.”

Joey’s struggling to free the mechanism.

“This ain’t a call-in show, Bindare! This is frickin’ reality.”

Pound, pound, pound.

Bindare looks up. Tony is pulling away.

“Joey, he is speeding up,” Bindare says, nervously. “Do it now!”

Joey’s pounding the red button.

“I’m trying to but…this…stupid…button…is…”

Both cars hit a rough patch of broken road, all potholes and chunks of asphalt missing. The bomb under Tony’s car jiggles loose. It falls off and rolls in a little circular roll into the middle of the lane.

Bindare eyes widen and he slows up.

“Joey, stop! Don’t …”

Joey’s huffing and pounding. “I’m trying to get this …”

“No, Joey, the bomb. It’s…”

Bindare slams on the brakes as Joey gives the red button a final whack!

KA-BOOM!


Joey and Bindare are left sitting in the bombed-out car, the front end blown completely away, the front seat now exposed, nothing but street in front of them. They are blackened and smoldering.

They see that, ahead, Tony has stopped his car and stepped out.

He’s heard and seen the explosion in his rear view. He takes a quick look back down the street, at the smoldering wreckage, sizes up the whole situation, jumps back in his car and zooms away, no doubt to become the Invisible Man.

“Aw, crap!” Joey says.



Chapter 8


Joey is back home, at his walk-up in Queens. He’s on the couch, recovering. He has a cold pack on his forehead. He is moaning and he’s a mess—blackened face, clothes shredded and singed.

His girlfriend, Zoey, is curled up on a chair next to the sofa, her feet tucked under her. She has short white punk-cut hair that stands up in all directions, has a severe part on the side, with a red streak on the left and a blue streak on the right. It’s red, white, and blue. She’s wearing large red-framed granny glasses that keep sliding down her nose. She’s sympathetic, concerned, and looking ditzy yet thoughtful.

She speaks in a heavy Jersey accent.

“So you’re saying this car just blew up?”

Joey, trying his best to look genuinely baffled.

“Yeah. It was the weirdest thing.”

“Both cars. They just blew up.”

“Yeah. Must’ve crunched the guy’s gas tank or something. I dunno. I mean, we tapped him a little bit at the stop sign was all. All I know is there’s this big blast and poor Bindare loses his hearing, and I just about got killed. The other guy got off with nuthin’. He just drove away.”

Zoey’s shaking her head slowly, not buying it.

“Joey, how could two cars just blow up on a city street? You were doing work for Vince again, weren’t you?”

“Vince? Me? Naw. Vince had nothing to do with it. Me and Bindare was just out driving around.”

Zoey totally does not believe that. But she’s concerned for him.

“Uh huh. Would you like to talk about it?

“Talk about what?”

“About how you’re feeling right now?”

“How do you think I feel? I feel awful. I ache everywhere. I just about got blown to pieces, for Pete’s sake. How am I supposed to feel?”

“I mean emotionally.”

“Emotionally? What’s emotionally got to do with anything?”

“Right,” Zoey mutters under her breath. “What’s emotionally got to do with anything?” She tries again. “Joey, you just about got yourself blown to bits in a futile effort to hurt a man you probably don’t even know for a bunch of hoodlums who don’t care if you live or die. You’re dealing with dangerous people and something dangerous just happened. You must have some feelings about all that?”

Joey looks perplexed and bothered by this line of interrogation.

“I just told you…I feel awful. And Vince ain’t no hoodlum, by the way. He’s a legit guy. Owns a garbage hauling business and everything.”

Zoey rolls her eyes. A garbage hauling business! She’s half Jewish, half Italian—Zoey Burricche, from a Jewish mother—and she knows what that’s code for. The mob totally dominated the haulage biz in Jersey and it was one of their usual cover fronts.

“It doesn’t worry you, what you did?”

“Sure it worries me.”

“But you don’t find the whole scene…upsetting? You could get killed one day…or kill someone else. Doesn’t that bother you? Cause you any anxiety?”

Joey, irritated, says, “‘Course it does. But, hey, in my biz you gotta be a stand-up guy about that stuff.”

“Why would you want to stay in a business where you have to be in a state of anxiety all the time?”

“Hey, I’m a respected guy. I’m part of something. My friends need me. They need jobs done. They know Joey’s always there for them. We’re family.”

“Joey, those guys aren’t your family.”

“Vince is. He’s my second cousin three times removed on my late uncle Paulie’s half brother’s side.”

Zoey throws a look at the ceiling. “That makes you about a zillion times removed. You’re probably more related to the stupid barber on the corner.”

Joey thinks that over.

“Well, yeah. Bennie is a bit slow. And he is my Uncle Peter’s second cousin on my…”

“Joey,” Zoey cuts in, frustrated. “The point is—these people aren’t your family at all. You don’t mean anything to them. You’re looking for acceptance from a bunch of mobsters whose approval you crave and grovel for, but who don’t care about you at all.”

Joey’s a little offended.

“Hey, I don’t crave and I sure don’t grovel.”

“Isn’t that how you get these so-called jobs”? That’s what you told me.”

“You gotta forget the stuff I tell you. You ain’t supposed to know that stuff.”

“So, you believe these mob friends of yours actually respect you? I just don’t get why you’d want to be around people like that.”

“Hey. These are big time guys. Everybody wants to be a somebody. I try so hard.” Zoey can see that he’s finally starting to show a little emotion. “I mean, I don’t want to hurt anybody or nuthin, but I want to fit in. Be a part of something. Get respect. You know…like my dad used to.”

Zoey feels a twinge of sympathy for him, knowing that his dad, gone many years, still looms large in his life. Probably why he tries so hard to get acceptance from his mob crowd. Which was his dad’s crowd.

“Joey. Your dad was mildly autistic. He did the best he could with what he had. You aren’t retarded in any way. I’ll admit, you’ve got emotional and psychological issues. Maybe a few mountains of emotional and psychological issues. Okay, maybe even the Himalayas of psyche issues with a good dose of ADHD thrown in. But you don’t have to accept what your dad did. To be an errand boy for a pat on the head and the occasional doggie treat from these guys. They just use you.”

Joey’s starts focusing on the TV that’s not only on the Weather Channel but is also on mute and Zoey can see she’s losing him.

“Can we lay off this heavy stuff just a little,” he says. “I’m starting to get a headache over here.”

He falls silent. Reflective. Things obviously going through his mind. Zoey is staring at him thoughtfully.

She asks, “Joey, what are you thinking right now?”

“Aw, you never want to listen when it’s important to me. It’s always blah blah blah. Joey why are you such an idiot. Soon’s I have something to say the conversation’s over.”

Zoey feels a pang of guilt.

“That’s not true. I’m listening now. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Nah, you don’t want to listen.”

“I do. Just tell me.”

Joey sits up like he’s got an inspiration.

“Yeah, okay. Well, I was just thinking, um…”

Zoey waits expectantly. It’s a breakthrough moment.

“Thinking what, Joey?”

“……well, that I, um…”

“What is it, Joey? Whatever it is. You know you can tell me.”

Zoey also sits forward.

Joey finally spits it out.

“Okay. I’d like to make love. Right now. On the back porch. Then in the hammock in the back yard.”

Zoey falls back.

“I know you don’t. You can hardly sit up. Don’t play with me like that.”

“Okay, okay. I was just thinking, um…that I’m getting, you know, kind of hungry. You want to order in or somethin’?”


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