Bride and groom chink glasses, champagne is swigged, the guests flutter around in their Sunday best, sports coats dusted off and the women in their black evening dresses and bright burlesque cabaret dresses, adorned with necklaces and earrings that would surely catch the glint in a suitor's eye. After all, it was considered a mark of disrespect to turn up for a typical Italian wedding in a state of incomplete dress.
The rather lavish reception had been thrown at the function hall of a sleepy, leafy country club in Bayside. Some of the guests had spilled out onto the adjoining curved stone balconies, mostly the twenty-something and mid-thirties gentlemen flashing their sharp black suits and dark sunglasses, staring out at the scattering of palm trees and the cool blue cavernous pond basking in the warm, fuzzy glow of the sun and generally shooting the shit.
Inside the function hall, there was more of a manic, frenzied atmosphere, with magnificently rotund little women trampling and traversing around in six-inch stiletto heels and planting French double kisses on old friends, their older husbands sitting down at the delicately laid tables they had been assigned and having a genial chat with those sitting adjacent to them, and a four-piece band crooning from centre stage like the Italian heartthrobs of the fifties, their frontman bobbing his bushy, curly hair and plucking his mandolin with tender care.
The bride exuded old-school Hollywood starlet beauty, with full rosy lips, glossy black hair and snow white cheeks, and the groom was classically handsome: slicked-back weaselly greying hair, maybe, but nothing else that would warrant a complaint from the vixens in the baying mob of wedding guests. The female attendees devoutly flung back their delicate lace shawls and feather boas onto their bare shoulders, and some of their men had abandoned their plates to break the ice and make polite small-talk with guests who looked as though they barely recognised most of the faces in the room.
Weddings. Joyous occasions where cream-coloured envelopes had been filled, sometimes to the brim, with offerings for the happy couple, and some of the older women and gentlemen, perhaps those more intimate with the bride or groom, took each party aside to offer them their two cents' worth on marriage.
And although weddings were, by all accounts, a no-go for shop talk, it had become strikingly apparent that some of the men leaving their goomahs to mingle with their female chums and signalling each other with covert glances as they shuffled out to "use the restroom" had other plans.
A little way outside the function hall, a dark-haired, spindly coat check assistant was rifling through the coat rack to his side and occasionally being whisked out to check in with some of the guests from the wedding party who had holed themselves up in the back, where they kept most of the plastic-sheathed coats.
If the coat check assistant was to check in again, then he would have been greeted by the same sight as before: rolling garment racks had been tucked away to make room for the tan skinned men, a mixture of burly and wiry, as they either sat on hard plastic or sought refuge against the wall, and two older gentlemen were pinned behind cheap oak desks, busting balls and talking shop, to be joined by a chorus of light-hearted chuckles and some earnest looks.
Arthur, the younger of the two, was decked out in his Sunday best, a navy blue pinstriped suit and Trilby hat, and although his wardrobe choice was dated, perhaps, he showed no restraint in yanking the receiver off a wall-mounted phone every so often and punching in numbers for "enterprise level discussions", as he called them. He chewed on the fat end of his cigar, the greying streaks in his slicked-back, pearly white hair starting to show, and although a gentleman of his prestige, as he would say, would usually be doing his round of meet and greets on the big day, it was clear that his mind was elsewhere.
"Still chasing them goddamned dreams, Arthur?" the older of the two chuckled, offering a wry grin. Like his compatriot, his hair was white, although with no grey streaks, and his pleasant, round face, although a little chubby, had the uncanny effect of making all his smiles seem genial.
"Don't be so crude, Teddy," Arthur smirked, his jaw wagging slightly. "Besides, lest you forget, I've got two sons to put through college, and Jeanine's been busting my balls over that kitchen renovation I promised her. The lady of the house will have her way, of course, and if that means chasing up a coupla' leads, then so be it." He shrugged and nursed the shot of single malt one of the waiters had been gracious enough to deliver.
"You still peddlin' those road hazards, Artie?" another of them chimed in. "Skinny Pete still hasn't forgotten about his Buick breaking down."
"Hey," Arthur shot back, "that was the Arthur of before, an Arthur who was still building up his business portfolio. Supply's improved since then – maybe marginally, but hey, that's business." He frowned. "Besides, didn't Skinny take five fuckin' tries to pass driver's ed? No wonder the Buick broke down."
"Yeah, right," the other man snorted, "what did I expect, anyway? Must be all that coke he's been snorting. I heard he's got some stashed at his laundry." He laughed heartily and was accompanied by light-hearted chuckles.
"Hey," Teddy glowered at him, a disapproving stare planted on his face that was accentuated by the tufts of white in his already thickset brows, as the light-hearted chuckles died out and the rest of the small crowd watched the lecture with anticipation, "I don't want no talk of drugs, Billy. I'm sorry, but I'm sick to the bone of the damage it's done to certain friends of ours."
"Sorry," a sheepish Billy returned, scratching the back of his neck. "But Teddy, with all due respect, and I know I shouldn't be shooting my mouth off about this, but I'm sorry, how can a two-bit piece-of-shit pusher like Skinny be up for membership? None of the guys here, myself included, have gotten involved in the trade out of respect for you." He shrugged. "I dunno, just my two cents, y'know?"
"Billy, we get it," Arthur raised a hand and gave him a brief, reassuring nod. "But that's the current state of play. We'll make do for now, but don't worry, some of those fucks will be sorry they ever chose this borough to plant their flag in, believe you me." He took a swig of his shot of whiskey and wiped his mouth clean of the stench – he hoped. "Look, all due respect, fellas, but let's not dwell on this. This fine establishment may have been swept and combed the world over, but we can't risk anyone listening." Arthur pricked his ear towards the door, the faint clapping of hands and the wild strumming of a mandolin stirring him to maybe, just maybe, dance with his wife later. "Besides, I'm sure it would be remiss of us to waste an afternoon talking shop and neglecting our goomahs – not least everyone at the reception, bride and groom included."
"Couldn't agree more, Arthur," Teddy chuckled. He patted down his bulging overcoat and bobbed his head at the crowd of men who had been listening to his and Arthur's every word. "He's right, fellas, go mingle. Have fun, show your goomahs you know how to have a good time." There were some more light-hearted chuckles; after it died out, the men began to rigidly shift their limbs and spill out of the repurposed cloakroom, one-by-one, until only Arthur and Teddy remained.
"Arthur," Teddy started, just as Arthur was about to tip his hat in salute of him and leave after saying his goodbye, "there's a little matter we need to discuss still..."
As the bride, groom and their immediate family were encapsulated by the flashes of a Canon EOS 7D MK II, their best moments to be framed for years to come, and as the groom pulled his bride upright, Terrence watched from a distance, cutting a fine figure in his loose-fitting blazer and cream slacks. Then one of the older gentlemen, bespectacled and oval-faced, rose at his table, inclined his glass of champagne towards the happy couple, and began to belt out a rousing rendition of a famous Italian soprano song, Ave Maria. There was even a gaunt-faced, pot-bellied gentleman sitting alone at a table, hairline receding and his glasses crooked – according to Arthur, he was a retired NYPD detective who, against all odds, made good with whoever headed up Arthur's crew after "spending every waking moment trying to pin charges on our guys". It looked like Terrence was in good company then, as he took a swig of champagne, the warm tint of the sun highlighting his sandy blonde locks.
"Nice little affair, ain't it Terry?"
Terrence cocked his head at the source of the question, and broadly grinned when he saw a thin and wiry man, with thick tawny hair, a ruddy, high-domed head and patches where a scraggly beard once rested. His crumpled, out-of-date suit was more ill-fitting than Terry's, although his bulging forearms, glistening with sweat, were branded with bold arced lines inked in black, with curved flourishes at the end, making it pretty clear he wasn't a shirt-and-tie man.
"More like nice little earner, Des," Terrence smirked. "But yeah, as gigs go, this ain't bad. The crowd's not as rowdy as I'm used to." They watched as some of the older folk started to whirl each other around in a passionate and coarse Tarantella. "How are things on your end?"
"Yeah, can't complain. Thanks for getting me this gig, it sure beats whatever plans I had this weekend."
"Don't sweat it, Des. You're a real pal. You've done right by me, makes sense I should do likewise." Desmond waved his hand dismissively; Terrence patted him on the back and embraced the rather dapper Irishman in a bear-hug. "Anyway, we should probably make our next rounds soon."
Desmond nodded. "Oh, by the way, I heard Arthur wanted you round back. Pronto."
"Don't worry, I'll cover for you, we'll divvy up the rest of our rounds later, got it?"
Terrence grinned. "Sure." The two friends dapped each other up before Terrence weaved and darted through the lines of older folk doing their best attempt at a Tarantella, shoulders slack at both sides, coat-tails flapping slightly against the light breeze.
"Teddy," Arthur started with a broad grin, as Terrence stepped inside to be accosted by the bow-shaped lips of an older gentleman, curled into a faint smile that could easily be mistaken as disingenuous, "allow me to introduce Terry."
"You vouch for him, Arthur? With your life?" Teddy questioned with a steady and firm gaze trained on Terrence.
"Yes," Arthur answered, "but he's not a friend of ours."
"Well, Arthur, normally I would say no...but I trust your judgement." Teddy furrowed his brows at Terrence. "What's your story, sonny?"
Terrence inched closer and, returning a faint smile to the man, albeit far too late, perhaps, drew up a chair. "I've, uh, been working with Arthur here for a little over eight years now. Short story of it is that I used to be a short puncher – throwing hooks over and under – until I took a dive and I couldn't contend no more."
Teddy licked his lips. "You used to contend in the ring, huh?"
"Yeah, here an' there, mostly little-league. Prize-fights, small clubs, never thought about makin' it big for a long time. All I knew then was how to pick a fight." Terrence chuckled.
"Yeah, right. And, uh, what does my good friend Artie here have you get up to now that you're no longer in the ring?"
Terrence shrugged. "Varies. When I'm not ferrying him across town or having to throw my weight around, he's got me running errands and an odd job here, odd job there. Not that I'm complainin', I mean, it's flexible enough, but, uh, sometimes I find myself wantin' something a little more...substantial."
"Sure, sure. Let's walk and talk, kid."
Terrence and the older gentleman, Teddy, whose real name was Theodore Scibetta, strolled through the gardens of the club at an amble pace – shrouded in part from the reception party by the overarching, maze-like box hedges and a large, saucer-shaped fountain that sputtered water like rounds from an M-16. "So, tell me, Terry," Theodore stammered, breaking the silence, "how clued up are you on what's going on up top these days?"
"I mean," Terrence started to answer, "as much as I need to know. Arthur gives me the bare bones of what's going on, and the papers fill in the blanks, but he says it's strictly need-to-know."
"Sure, can't fault him for that, can I?" Theodore chuckled. "I had reservations at first, but Tone proved himself capable. I know boss material when I see it and in Tone I saw raw talent." They crossed over onto the red-and-brick walkways that led them further afield, where topiary shrubs and other greenery lay. "It's unfortunate, this business with the federal indictments and the stings and the wiretaps and who knows what fuckin' else."
Terrence pursed his lips, maintaining his silence out of respect for Theodore, who he knew was a better authority on mob politics than he probably was.
"Now, Tone's a father, like me, and us fathers have a tendency to...let our family values cloud our judgement. For better or worse, who knows? But he's named his Leonora as acting boss while he's sitting in the can, awaiting further trial, and, uh, I'm sorry to say, but this thing of ours isn't as progressive as some of us would like."
"You mean, it's 2016 and a bunch of old-school, no-nonsense ball-busting wiseguys who sit around on construction sites all day shooting the shit and drinking coffee take offence to a woman taking the mantle from right under their noses?" Terrence snorted, even though he was probably out-of-line, but it seemed as though Theodore didn't mind as he wagged a finger at him and clicked his tongue.
"Took the words right out my mouth, kiddo. Now, her old man may have been reluctant to back the right horse the last time we were all fighting each other like a pack of goddamn fuckin' wolves, but I think this time, it's pretty clear who's gonna come out on top." Theodore shrugged. "Still, a guy like me's got to take a coupla' precautions." He jabbed a finger in Terrence's direction. "That's where you come in. I need someone in my crew I can trust, and from what Arthur's been saying, you're the man for the job."
"What do you want me to do?" Terrence arched a brow. "I've done well for now to keep my nose clean and out of family politics."
"Eh, you're overthinking it. It's a real doozy, Terry: pick up my car in the mornings and drive me to appointments, keep an eye on me at all times, make sure none of the other crews try any funny business when I'm out and about. They know I ain't the type to try an' stir an' brew nothin', but if Nora's got me behind her, who knows what the other crews might try and do?" The measured beat of water gushing from the fountain and the birds chirping filled in the silence as the two of them continued their stroll. "Look, Terry, I may be old, but I'm no stolto - backing Nora's gonna put a target on my back, I know that, but that's not gonna stop me from taking precautions. I've got this all cleared with Arthur, he's happy to have you relieved for a few days to come do this for me, but I gotta know: are you in, or are you out?"
The brief chasm of silence lilted in the air, with the tangy aroma of rosebud and the crispness of the fountain water, before Terrence huffed and sighed. "Fuck it, I'm in."
(( Requests: ))
- Theodore “Teddy” Scibetta, DiMatteo capo, as a contact: the captain of Arthur's crew, Terry has been loaned to him as a bodyguard/driver.
- Arthur Castucci, DiMatteo soldier, as a contact: Terry's boss, more of a legitimate businessman than a gangster.
- Critique: Rusty, have not written anything for a while.