When you get old like me, all you got is your routine and the same cafones I’ve been seeing for the last ten years.  Myra died seven years ago.  Two of my kids don’t even talk to me anymore, and the other two live out in L.A.  They call around the holidays, which is nice.  

So it’s just me.  I wake up early.  Get in the car and head over to Kay’s Diner for an early breakfast.  There’s a couple of old fellas spooning in runny egg and toast past their dentures, sipping weak coffee.  We’ll talk about the weather or maybe how the Yankees did.  An hour and a half there, buy a paper out front, then back to the apartment for some juice, the front section of the Times, and a good shit, which at my age can take a while.  

After lunch there’s a group of us guys who sit near the park and look out at the bay.  Most folks think we’re there because we’re old and it’s under an awning and it’s near the shuffleboard court nobody uses.  The truth is it’s right on the path where all the young stay-at-home moms bring their babies.  The best are the bouncy gals with those sporty strollers.  I don’t know who in the hell invented spandex and the sports bra, but God love ‘em.

The only night I do dinner at home is Sunday and it’s always spaghetti, meatballs the way Myra used to make ‘em, tomatoes, garlic, some fresh oregano I buy at the market, basil, onion, a little tomato paste, little water, and red wine.  Let it simmer most of the afternoon.  By five it’s ready.  

Other nights I go out, usually just down the strip.  There’s a seafood night at the Casino for retirees, I’ll hit that sometimes, see some of the boys from around.  I like the Mexican place.  Who woulda thought it?  Me, a good Italian boy, born in a little town you probably never heard of.  

Santeramo.  Not far from Bari.

I had always figured I’d worked my last job years ago.  It’s why I moved to Florida – done with work.  Of course, the kind of guys I worked for, you don’t exactly fill out retirement papers.  

I love my routine.  Eggs and old union retirees from Michigan in the morning.  Waterfront view and big tits at lunch.  Mexican food and waitresses that flirt with me at dinner.  

The outfit must be in deep shit to call me out of retirement.  The stugots on these guys.  

Of course, I have a special way of working.  No guns.  Don’t like the goddam things, and I like the kin d of people who use ‘em even less.  Noisy, messy.  Easy to trace, too.
I have a better way.  Cleaner.  Easier.

The job wasn’t going to be tough.  A woman in Tampa.  Same amount of money as always, which I kind of thought was bullshit given inflation, but I didn’t argue the point.

I know what you’re thinking.  How can he do this to a woman!  Listen, I started in this business with my father when I was thirteen years old.  I’ve seen a lot, okay?  My conscience has absorbed a lot.  I’ve seen women go down, men go down.  I’ve seen some young ones go down, too.  

Let me tell you something.  They were all bad.  All of them.  You think the people I work for are bastards?  Forget it.  These are liars.  Cheaters.  Thieves.  The scum of the earth.  They’d kill your mother for a quick buck.  The people I worked for?  They got nothing on some of these figli di puttana stronzo…

Sorry.  Sometimes the old Italian comes out when I get worked up.

My work takes two weeks, never longer.  Drive up to Tampa, find the woman.  Pretty easy to do, since the boys in the outfit have had one of their stooges drop of a little packet of information at the apartment on her.  Picture, address, where she goes, what she drives, what she likes to eat.  

This one won’t be hard.  I’ll watch her from a good distance, not too close, verify what the boys have told me.  Somewhere in this damn file is a list of the places she likes to go to eat.  Buy a gift card there for a meal on a Monday or Tuesday, when you know they have the slow staff working.  Just mail it with a letter I typed up before that says come in on Friday and bring a date and his is free, too.  

I always thought that was the weak link in the plan – what if the cops find the letter?  What if they asked about the gift card?  Still, the dumb bastards never put it together.

Works like magic.  The mark shows up on Friday, usually around seven.  You don’t want to go into the place until they’ve at least gotten their appetizers, so I usually just sit in the car, or find a place across the street to have coffee.  It should be the A-game staff on the clock.  

The bar is a good place to get situated, especially if you can get down towards the end where the waiters and waitresses come to get drinks.  You’re anonymous in the bar, a ghost.  Nobody sees you in the bar, especially an old Italiano like me.  

The woman and her man will have found a quiet corner, which is good.  If it’s near an exit, even better.  You got to wear your nice white shirt, your black tie, black blazer and pants.  Shine the shoes good, and when there’s a break in the action at the bar, just slip one of those towels into your lap.  A napkin will do in a pinch.  

This is the trickiest part of the operation.  I used to steal the pitcher of water from the bar when the bartender wasn’t looking, but that got too risky.  Especially now.  I’m not as fast as I used to be.  Too many close calls.  

Now I bring in my own pitcher, which works better.  It’s smaller and I can tuck it under the jacket, hide it behind the towel, nobody sees it.  

Poppa always said a few drops would work, but I never took a chance.  Quarter bottle.  They say it’s enough to kill a small army, but who knows.  

This is the best part.  Quarter of the bottle from the flask in my inside jacket pocket.  A little water from the glass of it I ordered with my Campari.  It’s the perfect amount.  And a little on the towel, facing out.  

There’s something about the stuff.  Something that just makes you… thirsty.  You even just get close to it, your mouth dries out, your lips are suddenly parched.  Nothing will do but water.  I got used to it a long time ago.  

The mark gets thirsty, every time.  Fill up his glass with the mostly empty pitcher, apologize to the date for not having more, and you’re done.

In more than seventy years of doing this, I’ve had one guy – one guy – not have water on the table when I walked up to him.  One guy.  And when he saw me, he asked for water, so I just found an empty glass, filled it, and it was done.

A few have been brim-full, or have been that sparkly shit.  When that happens, it’s easy.  Just pour into it, anyway, like an idiot.  Big grin, the works.  They’ll make a fuss and draw a little attention, but just apologize a whole lot in Italian and mop up what you can with the towel.  

I know what you’re thinking: it’d be easier to shoot ‘em.  But I already told you: I don’t work with guns.  

The stuff works slow.  Takes a full twelve hours.  But once you’ve taken even a sip, it’s done.  And there’s no going back.  There’s no antidote for what Poppa called “the manna”.  

She’ll see the towel on my arm, I’ll pour the water.  She’ll take a sip, not even look at me.  I’m in and out, all in less than thirty minutes.  

Whoever’s running the outfit now must know I’m down to my last bottle, that this is my last quarter I’m using on a bitch who slept with a married capo, stabbed him in the eye, fucked his friend, and – the worst part — ripped him off.  They don’t say it, but my guess is she’s got something on the capo, too.  Something the police would love to see.  

It’ll all be over soon.  I’ll be back in the car headed south to my eggs, mid-day tits, and Mexican food in no time.  I may even remind those guys that I used all the stuff – Poppa said it would probably happen in my lifetime.  No more manna.  

Well.  No more they know about.

© 2013 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.

Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.