A submission to a contest. Didn’t make the shortlist, but was still a lot of fun to write. Thought I’d share it here. Enjoy.
“Just like a movie,” says the old man to the Inspector “Old mafia hit man kills his bosses. Hunter becomes the hunted. Something like that?”
There is a slender, white, hand-rolled cigarette between his forefinger and a craggy middle finger. The old man puts the cigarette to his chapped lips and draws deep, then exhales a stream of blue-white smoke.
The Inspector doesn’t move. His back is straight, bulky arms crossed. He is watching the old man carefully, curiously.
“But this is no movie,” the old man continues, “it is real life. Killing mobsters in real life never ends like it does in the movies.”
There is a long silence between the two men, eyes locked on one another, the older man occasionally drawing on his smoke, ashing on the old tile floor.
This is ridiculous, thinks the Inspector. This could be someone’s grandfather. What does he know about killing? The white, wispy hair blowing slightly in the air conditioned office, the age spots on his neck, his cheek, his arms, his hands. Even his clothes speak to another time. The wide tie off-center against a shirt with a wide collar. The old man’s cane is propped against the back of his chair.
“Do you know that I was forty-eight years old before I ever fired a gun? Forty-eight! Another lie they tell you in movies. Everyone shooting everyone else! Bang! Bang! Bang!” he makes the shape of a gun with his left hand and pretends to fire around the room. “Bang! Bang!” he continues, saving his last ‘shot’ for the Inspector, aiming right at his broad chest. He says in a sinister whisper, “Bang!” His smile shows bright, white teeth, like a shark’s teeth. “You’re not even forty-eight yet, are you son?”
The police inspector just smiles, unmoving. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembers that there is a half a pack of cigarettes in his desk drawer. He has promised his wife he has quit the habit, and he has. Twenty-seven days without smoking. But watching the old man, something draws him to the pack in his desk drawer.
No, thinks the Inspector.
“Guns. Eh,” the old man says with disgust, making a sour face and looking away. After a beat, he speaks again. “I shot a man once.”
He looks around the windowless room, eyes resting on nothing. There are faded old memos, curled posters, an old calendar tacked to a cork board.
“Once,” he waits a beat, turns his eyes away from a coffee maker on a small file cabinet in the corner. A nice one, the kind that makes an individual cup of coffee, a carafe, or an espresso. It gleams in the drab light of the office.
“You’re admitting to a crime,” says the Inspector, but without much conviction. He is tired, his face lined with exhaustion. But he keeps his strong arms crossed, the forearms poking out of half-rolled sleeves, the gun holster tucked under his arms.
“Please, Inspector,” says the old man, raising his eyebrows and leaning forward.
“I am north of eighty years-old. I’ve not got a lot of time left. You’re going to arrest me? Hold me in jail while a judge prepares a jury, while they figure out where to have the trial? Back and forth with witnesses — there aren’t any, by the way. What about motive? Evidence? You’re going to arrest me,” he throws his arms up and looks around in disgust. Ash from the cigarette falls to the ground. “…in… this miserable place? Come now, Inspector. You must do better than that. Try not to waste my time.”
He takes one last drag on the smoke, throws the last bit to the ground and crushes it with the heel of his old, worn wingtip. “I’m not here so you can arrest me for a crime that’s older than you are.”
“You’re right,” says the Inspector, leaning forward on the desk. His mind dances once more to the pack of smokes in the drawer. Offer him one, he thinks. Smoke one with him. Loosen him up, maybe. But he dashes the thought from his mind. “But before we do… who did you shoot? If you don’t mind me asking. I’d… just like to know.”
“Oh, Inspector, it’s been so long,” he says, lost in a momentary reverie. The old man pulls out a tin of tobacco and a package of papers and slowly, meticulously begins to work on another cigarette. Watching helplessly, the police inspector groans to himself.
Vincenzo Morelli, an old enforcer in a dark brown suit. The depths of a dark, nameless alley. New York City, in the shadows of the late evening. A 1910 semiautomatic coming out of his pocket. The old man, then a young man, had drawn the Smith & Wesson .38 faster than Vincenzo. Five minutes later, the pistol was at the bottom of the Hudson River and Vincenzo was face-down.
“Some old crook. Tried to rob me. You know how New York used to be. That’s all I remember,” says the old man, waving a hand as if to dismiss the matter.
The detective immediately thinks of a dozen unsolved murders it could be, and realizes he has become annoyed by the distraction. The respite from his fury is the thought of the pack of cigarettes and his hand goes to the drawer.
“I could arrest you,” mutters the detective, pulling it open.
The old man looks up and smiles at the Inspector as he hunches over the new cigarette in progress at his fingertips.
“I don’t think so.”
The old man stops rolling his cigarette and stares at the Inspector. Then he draws in a deep breath and says in an exaggerated voice, “‘Oh, me! I’m just an old man! I don’t even know what I’m saying! Won’t someone help me?’”
He puts the cigarette in his mouth and lights it with a match, letting the match burn as he continues speaking, “I didn’t even give you a name, Inspector. What could you possibly arrest me for that I won’t deny by the time we walk out of this office?”
The Inspector lets go of the drawer and nods his head.
“Let’s talk about why you’re here, Mr. DeTrucco,” he stands, moving to the coffee maker. The Inspector meticulously prepares the coffee maker for a mug of coffee, water from a jug in a small refrigerator.
“Coffee, Mr. DeTrucco?”
The old man shakes his head. “I had to give it up years ago, but thank you, Inspector. I’m fine.”
The Inspector turns back to the task of preparing the coffee. Funny, he thinks. I gave up cigarettes and replaced it with coffee. He gave up coffee, still smokes like hell.
After a moment, the machine gurgles and the black liquid drips into the white mug. The Inspector stands by the machine as his coffee brews.
“Feel free to begin any time, Mr. DeTrucco,” he says, crossing his arms again and smiling politely. Watching the old man in the chair, he thinks about the pack in his drawer again. The promise of coffee takes the edge off.
“Very well,” the old man says, looking at the Inspector. “You want to know my ‘connection’ to Massimo and Stefano Palmisano.”
“Easy. I met them both at a club in New York once. That’s all.”
“I don’t remember. It’s been years, Inspector. Decades.”
“Why were you meeting them at the club.”
“It wasn’t a meeting, Inspector. I met them. They were at a nightclub, I was at a nightclub… we were introduced.”
“Who introduced you?”
“A man named Joey Leonetti.”
“Joey ‘Lips’ Leonetti. How did you know him.”
“Inspector,” says the old man, drawing on the smoke again, inhaling deeply, “shall I recall every acquaintance I’ve ever made in eighty years? If so, we will be here for what will feel like eternity.”
“If you have to,” says the detective, grabbing the mug and sitting back down at his desk.
“Inspector,” says the old man, “Unless there is something specific I can help…”
“The Palmisano Brothers,” says the Inspector, matter-of-fact. “Running enforcement for all five of the big families. Dead now. Killed.”
“Poison? How do you know?”
“Because there’s no gunshot wounds. No other trauma. Both men died in their beds. Their own homes. About the same time. Their hearts just… stopped. Nothing else it could be.”
“What type of poison was it?”
The Inspector takes a sip of coffee after blowing on the surface.
“We don’t know. Can’t figure it out,” he says, almost under his breath. “No sign of struggle. Had to be poison.”
The old man draws on the smoke once more.
“The Palmisano organization was violent. Bombings, shootings, stabbings, arson,” the Inspector sips his coffee again. “But we also believe there are several dozen deaths linked to them that are… unexplained. Much like their deaths.”
“Poison it was, then, yes,” says the old man.
“Are you confessing?” the Inspector leans forward.
“No, young man,” the old man says with a tut. “Of course not. Just a simple observation. What else could it be that killed those men, the Palmisanos.”
The old man pulls the tin of tobacco out once more, the small box of papers. The Inspector watches his fingers work with sad eyes, not saying a word, almost helpless. He does not take another sip of the black coffee.
When the old man retrieves the box of matches from his coat pocket, the Inspector yanks open the drawer angrily, fishes towards the back for the half pack. Finding one, he fusses it out of the pack, curses under his breath. As he rises with the cigarette in his mouth, the old man is still holding the lit match, burning down. Glaring, the Inspector leans over the table and holds the tip of the cigarette to the ebbing flame.
“As I said earlier, Inspector,” the old man says, waving out the match, “were this a movie, you might suspect an old mafia hit man turned on his bosses, killed them in their sleep with some kind of mysterious poison. But this is no movie. I am nothing more than an old man. An old man who happened to meet these men once. That’s all.”
“Did you kill the Palmisano Brothers?”
The old man waits a beat, takes a drag on his freshly-rolled smoke, and smiles.
“Look at me, Inspector. Tell me… what do you think.”
The old man waits. The Inspector is frozen, unable to answer, only able to see an old, frail man smoking a cigarette.
The old man finally crushes his last cigarette out on the heel of his shoe, and says, “May I go now, Inspector?”
“Yes. Thank you for coming in, Mr. DeTrucco.” But the words sound empty as a ghost.
“Inspector,” says the old man as he stands, nodding, holding his cane. “Your cigarette. The floor.”
The Inspector, as if stirring from a dream, draws a quick breath and turns his head to the side of the desk where a small amount of ash has piled up. He realizes he has yet to take a drag and scrambles for an ashtray, thinks about putting it in his coffee for a moment. Finally, he gives up, steps on it, leaving the smoldering trash under his desk.
“Thank you for coming in,” he says again.
The old man nods his head and walks to the door. The Inspector watches him open it and leave. Only after the old man is gone for several minutes does the smell of smoke begin to clear, slowly replaced by the bitter coffee before him.
He brings the mug to his mouth.
© 2020 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.
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