D sat atop the black-and-white. Tito J leaned against it and chewed at one end of a lit cigar.
She watched over the domain of the supermarket. People going in, commodities going out. The machine running all hours, all hours running the machine. It was already business as usual.
Tito J said, “You ready to go?”
D let the wind ruffle her hair and gave no response.
“Better on time than late.”
The wind through her hair again. D rubbed at an eye and then rubbed at it for longer than she really needed to.
Then she said, “Yeah we can go.”
D hopped off the cop car and went off. Tito J dropped his cigar and stepped on it and followed.
They moved right inside. Everything flat and artificial. They stalked through the aisles and aisles and aisles of surplus-enjoyment and saw the men, the women, the children, the workers, the students, the scientists, the painters, the poets, the hungry, and heard among them was the whisper—-organize, unite!
They turned and found themselves among a section of books. There was a saleswoman and D went right to her, who bore a stunning resemblance to Dorothy Malone. D told her their business. She told D the place they were looking for was right across from them. Tito J accosted D and as they left D told the saleswoman that she was very pretty. Dorothy Malone nodded and said, “I know.”
D and Tito J finally came across their destination. Customer service.
D nodded to Tito J and went up to the counter.
The woman at the front—-the spitting image of Sonia Darrin.
Her eyes on a book, barely lifted for D.
“Can I be of any assistance?”
“That’s what you’re selling your labour power for aren’t you?”
The woman gave her a look. She set her book down and got up from the counter. Taller than D, almost as tall as Tito J.
She looked at Tito J and said, “Yes sir?”
Tito J gestured to D.
D said, “I’m a friend of Santino D’Angelo—-well not friend really but you know I don’t think he hated me or anything—-anyway he had an appointment here to fill in some records, checking inventory or whatever but he couldn’t make it so he had me—-us—-come in instead.”
She showed the pocketbook planner to the woman. The woman only returned steely eyes.
Finally she said, “Follow me.”
The woman walked around the counter and deeper into the store. D and Tito J followed.
She led them to the back part of the supermarket and through a hall and into an office. Antiques on antiques. Light filtering through dusty venetian blinds.
A bookshelf on one side—-stacked and smelled of aged pages. Stacks of books and other things in other places. A record player spinning an old jazz standard. It Could Happen to You.
D eyed the rows and rows of book and bit her tongue but took a seat in front of the desk. Tito J stood by a corner.
The woman said, “You can wait here while I gather the records. Coffee?”
Tito J said, “Please. Without cream if you don’t mind.”
“We don’t have cream. We can do coffee without milk.”
“Never mind then. Can I smoke a cigar?”
“Won’t be a problem at all.”
D asked, “Can I get a hot cocoa?” but the door was closed on her firmly. D shrugged and hopped out of her seat and snatched a book from the shelf. A classic crime novel. She sat back down and flipped it open.
Tito J worked his next cigar. He lit it. The smoke wafted and danced in the dust. Venetian stripes on the both of them.
He said, “We should talk strategy.”
D kept her eyes on the page and said nothing.
He said, “We should talk about something.”
D flipped a page and that was it.
Tito J blew smoke like a dragon and said, “Fine. I’ll talk about something. And the thing I want to talk about? Why you are what you are.”
D looked up from her book and asked, “And what am I?”
“A pain in the ass.”
D went back to her book and flipped a page.
Tito J moved from his corner to D, obscuring her in his shadow. He leaned down slightly and smoked. He said, “No. Seriously. D. I want to know. I want to know what makes you tick, I want to know why you’re here—-here of all places—-doing this and not doing literally anything a normal kid would do—-the kind of thing that doesn’t involve me walking into an expensive ass suite and seeing you sitting in front of a man who has had half of his brains blasted out of his skull and onto the wall behind him. I want to know why.”
D flipped another page. She looked from the page to Tito J. It was quiet.
She said, “There’s nothing to know. There is no why. Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es.”
“So you don’t want to think about it. Is that it? Is that why? Because you’re here and being here hurts too much—-and yet you’re still here?”
Back to her book—-another page flip.
She said, “No.”
He said, “Definitely reads that way to me.”
“I said what I said and I said no.”
“Then I’ll say this. You have one last chance D—-just walk away. That’s it. Just walk out that door and move on with the rest of your life. We can just let this whole thing slide.”
“Letting things slide is the first type of liberalism. So nope.”
Tito J chewed at one end of his cigar. His jaw tensed up. He said, “I’m helping you right now because I know you want me to. Because I know that you know that you’re going to find yourself in some shit, and you think you want me there to bail you out, even if it means shit for me. That’s the help you think you want. But I know that this isn’t the help I know you need. And I’m not the person who can give that to you. I don’t even know if that person even exists. You need help, D. You do. You can’t keep doing this—-being this. Not even—-”
“Not even Styx.”
D kicked at the air like a child because she was one. She slammed the book closed and hugged it like a teddy bear. She shut her eyes.
“You don’t know anything! You don’t know Styx! You don’t know me!”
After a very long beat of a still silence D only heard, “You’re right. I don’t. And that’s the problem.”
“Shut up! I don’t want to hear it! I don’t want to hear any of it anymore!”
D kept her eyes shut and didn’t think about any of it anymore.
She only opened her eyes when she heard the door open again and when she felt her chair being flipped over.
She squeaked and she fell out of her chair. Through her blurry and topsy-turvy view of things she saw Tito J standing there at the door—-his hand shaped to a finger gun.
He said, “Got a real one by my waist. Real thing of beauty. Colt 1903. Used by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep.”
She said, “Um. Okay?”
“I gave you my warning. You didn’t listen. So this is on you and I’m going to have to ask you to come with me and come with me quietly.”
D breathed and said, “Only because you’re being very courteous about it.”
They were already eating when Styx got there. They were all fat, they were all hungry, they were all white.
One of them slurped up a noodle and noticed Styx and said, “Whoa boy—-slow your roll there,” and then noticed the crowbar and then said, “And what do think you’re going to do with that?”
Styx said, “Nothing if you tell me where Santino is.”
“Sonny? Haven’t seen that son of a bitch in a coon’s age. Have you?”
Another one of them said, “Can’t say that I have. You?”
Another one of them said, “Not me. How about you?”
Another one of them said, “Nope.”
The first one then looked back at Styx and shrugged and went back to eating.
They were all sitting in the far back booth of a ritzy Italian restaurant. It had just opened. The ring signaled the door opening and Styx glanced—-a man in a suit taking a seat nearby.
They kept eating when Styx said, “None of you know where he is?”
“You know how it is with you young folk—-running around playing young folk games. Nobody tells us nothing no more.”
“This is no game. Whatever he’s up to—-it fucks us all.”
“We’re old men, Styx. We’ll take any action we can get by this point.”
Another ring. Two of them this time. They took another booth.
Styx said, “I don’t think you get it. One of your own is doing business on the side, and if you don’t keep your feet firm this whole thing is going to get swept right from under your feet.”
One of them broke off a piece of bread and ate it. He said, “No—-I don’t think you get it boy. Our feet are firm with our asses in our seats right here. Maybe it’s you who could take a second look at where you’re standing.”
Another ring. Another suit. Another booth.
Then another, then another, then another.
Styx gripped the crowbar tighter.
Another one of them said, “So. Okay. You put us in a rather precarious position, but we’ll give credit where credit’s due. Couple years ago—-ten years ago or something like that I don’t remember anymore—-we were in a real bind. Our families had our—-disagreements, it got a little hairy from time to time.”
“It was an all-out turf war.”
“Right. Sure. And we appreciate you stepping in when you did. You really saved our fat asses on that one.”
“And you’re willing to throw that away—-for what?”
“For what else is there boy? A writer once wrote—-everyone needs money, that’s why they call it money. It’s been good ever since you came along, you know, all democratic like, but the growth hasn’t really been there, and that is what’s really important. The growth.”
“Whatever it is you think you’re trying to achieve here—-it’s not going to go down the way you think it’s going to go down.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but there’s always a risk in an investment, isn’t that right?”
Another one of them said, “Right.”
Another one of them said, “Yes sir.”
Another one of them said, “When’s someone passing the goddamn butter?”
Styx closed his eyes for a moment. He didn’t see.
One of them said, “The thing you have to understand my boy is this—-you’re talking risk, then you should have known it would come to this eventually. Someone with bigger pockets than any of us would come and buy it all up, and you either ride that wave or you drown. And believe you me, we’re not good for swimming as it is. What you proposed ten years ago, what we’ve been working at, it’s like, like—-it’s like putting up a safety net. But we’ll still need a fall guy. And that’s just how it goes. Because, you know what they say about business—-”
Styx said, “Yeah. I do.”
“You’re as bright as ever my boy! So you know what’s next. We need a fall guy. So fall.”
Styx turned around and those who had come in got up. With the crony capitalists behind him—-though what was the difference?—-he was cornered.
He charged regardless, and they hit the backfoot.