Deliver the Package By 2 P.M., Tuesday
word count: 12,392
A man is defined by the choices he makes.
Santini sits in a chair by the dining room table. Overhead, the neighbor’s pace their floor, nervous, debating. Should they call the cops? Should they pretend they didn’t hear anything?
The pistol in Santini’s hand is cold and heavy. He rests it against his leg, stares at the wall. Its paper, vintage floral, is cracked and peeling. From the color he ascertains that a heavy smoker used to live there.
Santini closes his eyes.
December 23, 1917, Brooklyn, New York
Snow is heavy outside, it falls in furious flurries from the heavens to the earth. Gift of the angels. Santini is seven years old. He wants to play outside. His mother forbade him: you’ll catch cold. She speaks in thick Italian. He hates it. Children poke fun of his accent in school.
Neighborhood children are in the street far below, forming balls of white fluff, tossing them at one another. The snowballs burst on impact, an explosion of powder. Santini watches, envious.
At the front door, Santini’s father and older brothers shuffle inside, returning from the market. They bring a gust of wind with them and the crisp smell of snow. Santini shivers with joy. His father calls to him, help with the bags, and he hurries to the foyer.
Dinner is spaghetti alla marinara. Santini wishes there were meatballs, but his mother is saving the ground meat for Christmas. She scolds him when he steals a string of pasta, slurping it loudly. She cradles his baby sister in her arms and watches the pot of sauce stew. She begs Santini’s father to turn on the furnace, it’s too cold. He’s fiddling with the radio, attempting to catch a frequency through the storm.
On the floor, Santini’s brothers fight over dominoes. He wants to join them, but they never let him play. Antonio is eleven and Gino thirteen. Santini is too young, they say.
After dinner, Santini complains for dessert. He likes sweets. His mother scolds him for wanting too much. She puts his baby sister to bed. His brothers tease him: crybaby. His father promises panforte for Christmas. Santini is satisfied.
The family turns in for the night. Santini’s brothers snore next to him. They have stolen all the blankets. Santini stares out the window. A star winks at him, he makes a wish, then quickly forgets it. On the street below, the neighborhood children have made snow angels. Santini wants to play in the snow.
Santini slips out into the chilly night air. He wears his father’s coat. It’s far too large, drapes off him to his ankles. It is the nicest thing their family owns. It smells of musk, leather, oranges, and slightly, of his father.
Into the streets, Santini runs. The world is painted all in white, it appears foreign. Streetlamps lit with fire inside, they cast a magical glow over the snow covered land. Small flakes sprinkle around him. Santini is in heaven.
There is a patch of snow in the alley behind a building, untrampled, untouched. Santini falls to it on his back, makes his own angel. He is at peace with the world. The world is at peace with him.
Windows shatter, red brick splinters, the sky lights orange. Santini runs home but home is unrecognizable. Flame licks the sky, black smoke pouring into the heavens. People gather round. Sirens scream somewhere in the distance.
Santini is confused. He stares up in wonderment. Where is his mother? Where is his father? Where are his brothers and sister?
“Boy, get away from there!”
An arm wraps round Santini’s waist, drags him from the snow littered floor, through the crisp air and still he stares. Fire and debris crash to the spot he once stood. He is dropped back to the ground, his savior whisked away with the wind. The crowd closes in around him.
Santini is alone.
April 12, 1919, Brooklyn, New York
Picking pockets comes easy. Santini’s hands are small and agile. He slides unnoticed through the crowd. He’s learned how to blend in. He understands the way that people move, he follows their flow, ripples and bends with them. They never feel a thing.
Santini is swift. Santini is smooth. The other children, street urchins, admire him. He is clearly skilled. The other children, street urchins, hate him. They’ll never have his skill.
It is undisputed amongst the street urchins: Santini is needed. He brings in most of their cash. Otherwise, they do not care for him. He is quiet. He dwells and lingers. He stares longingly into sweet shop windows and talks about things that never happened. He makes the others sad.
And, Santini is a risk taker. He does unnecessary things. They worry he’ll make trouble for them all. They will abandon him in a heartbeat.
Outside Brooklyn Theater, Santini watches the crowd. He is very good at choosing targets. He never picks an empty pocket. He spots three well dressed men. One’s pocket is a bulging lump. He studies them. Learns their movements, finds their flow. He starts towards them, a hand catches him by the arm.
“Tiny, no.” The street urchins call him ‘Tiny’, they struggle to pronounce his name. It is a compromise. “Don’t you know nothing? Those three are wise guys.”
Santini pulls away, slides into the crowd. He knows. He does not care.
Picking pockets is too easy. Santini’s small, agile hand dives in. A large, clumsy hand grabs his collar.
The cold, slim knife blade rests against Santini’s exposed neck, his jugular. A little pressure, and he will bleed out. He looks up unwavering at the man holding him. Santini’s eyes are hard, his mouth a grave thin line.
Santini is afraid. He does not want to die. He does not let it show.
“It’s just a kid,” says one of the men.
The man, whose pocket Santini’s hand has been caught in, leers in Santini’s eyes. He has many wrinkles. His teeth are yellow. He smells of cigar smoke and peppermint. He pats the bulge in his pocket.
“Sorry, kid,” He does not sound sorry, “Stealing this would get a lot of people killed.” He leans low, close to Santini’s face, whispers so that the heat of his breath burns into Santini’s eyes, nose, mouth, “You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
The men let Santini go. They ruffle his hair. Walk away. They are laughing. Santini stands still as a statue. It is his first lesson in dogmatic consequence. He steals, people die.
Santini does not know what he wants.
January, 1920, Brooklyn, New York
Knives are pure and exacting. Santini finds he likes them. Chef Paolo at Figlio’s Diner shows him how to care for a knife, how to store it, how to sharpen its blade, how to carve with it, how to understand its movement, its flow. Santini learns quickly. Chef Paolo is impressed.
Donatella Figlio takes pity on Santini when he asks one night for leftover spaghetti alla marinara. She gives him a job, tells him: A man should have a purpose.
Santini buses tables. Cleans dishes. He works harder than anyone else. He makes two dollars an hour. He sleeps upstairs in Donatella’s office. She has given him a cot. He has money to buy things; food, sweets, clothes. He will not buy a new coat. The one he has is ragged and too big for him. Donatella asks him about it, he tells her: Because I like it.
Chef Paolo cooks Santini dinner; chef’s specialty. Sometimes he’ll take Santini’s order. Santini always requests the same dish: spaghetti alla marinara. No meatballs. Never any meatballs. Chef Paolo’s marinara tastes almost as good as Santini’s mother’s. He slurps the pasta. Almost.
A customer has taken a liking to Santini. His name is Vincenzo. All of Figlio’s customers are Italian. They are well-dressed, they speak in codes over glasses of fancy wines and large plates of pasta. Most of the men carry guns.
Vincenzo asks Donatella if she knows someone who can deliver a package. She recommends Santini.
Santini stands in the office staring at Vincenzo. He is a rotund man, his hair is thinning. He wears dark glasses even indoors. His pockets are always full. He wears a gold watch.
“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” Donatella says to Santini, “No one will be mad if you say no.”
Santini does not care if they would be. He says yes.
Vincenzo gives Santini a package. It is small, wrapped in brown paper, and tied with white cord. He does not tell Santini what is inside of it. Santini does not ask. Santini does not wonder.
Vincenzo gives Santini the address. It is not close. Santini will need to take the train. Santini likes the train. He once watched it with his brothers.
Vincenzo gives Santini instructions: Deliver the Package by 2 P.M., Tuesday.
It is still only Sunday.
Santini eats his spaghetti and waits.
February 12, 1924, Manhattan, New York
Aeolian Hall is crowded with people of luxury and stature. Santini feels small and insignificant. He is dressed in a stiff suit. His hair is slicked back with oil. Women in a cloud of perfume walk by, pinch his cheeks, coo that he is adorable. Vincenzo rests a hand on Santini’s shoulder, steers him through the crowd.
On the balcony, several distinguished gentlemen stand. They whisper amongst themselves. They are old. They are Italian. Vincenzo brings Santini to them. They look Santini up and down, appraising him.
“He’s an orphan, you say?”
“Yes, I am.” Santini answers. They look at him, surprise evident, shake their heads, and cluck their tongues.
“Such a pity.”
In the center of the men, is one in particular. He wears a dark red suit, tiny circular glasses are perched on his nose. His hair is all gone. He is very small and frail, but he seems large and strong. He never says a word.
They all take seats. Santini sits next to Vincenzo. The lights dim. Santini stares down at the stage. The orchestra is setting up, retrieving their instruments. Strings vibrate melodiously, their noise echoes off the walls. Santini watches, his eyes are wide, his mouth parted. He holds his breath.
A man walks onto the stage. There is a piano, it is lit. He takes a seat. The music starts. Santini is entranced. Throughout the concert, he does not move. It is like a heartbeat – a million heartbeats – pulsing all around him. The Heartbeat of the World. When it is over, Santini is breathless.
“What did you think?” The man in the dark red suit asks Santini, his words are thickly accented Italian. Santini is suddenly aware all eyes are on him. He searches for a response. He feels like this is some sort of test. He wonders what will happen if he answers wrong. He wonders what will happen if he answers right. Santini is nervous.
“I do not know what to think.” Santini grips his hands tightly together. He has not spoken Italian in many years. He worries that his words are wrong. That his pronunciation is childish. He stares hard at the man in the dark red suit, searches for a sign of misunderstanding. “I could not think. I could only feel.”
The man in the dark red suit smiles. He is missing teeth. Tension is lifted. All the men break into laughter and chatter. Santini loosens his hands. There are pricks of blood where his nails bit in.
The man in the dark red suit leaves to talk with Vincenzo. Santini sits alone. He does not know what to do with himself. There are so many sights. So many sounds. So many different smells. He is floating above the concert hall and he does not know how to come down.
Vincenzo returns, claps his hands warmly across Santini’s shoulders.
“You did well, my boy, you did well. Boss Adinolfi is impressed.”
Santini watches the man in the dark red suit, Boss Nicolò Adinolfi, leader of the Adinolfi borgatas.
In Figlio’s Diner, Santini eats dinner. Chef Paolo has made him chicken parmigiano. He sits alone at a table in the back. His is the only lit candle. He does not look when the front door opens, the bell above it jingling to announce a customer. He cuts into his chicken. The mozzarella drips off it in gobs.
Four men take a seat at a booth. One man, dressed in black pin-stripe, approaches Santini’s table. He places an envelope beside Santini’s plate. He says nothing to Santini. He joins his friends at their booth. The waitress brings them menus.
Santini finishes his dinner. He opens the envelope, reads the note inside. It is written in Italian: If it is of interest to you…
At the bottom of the note is a stamp of Boss Adinolfi’s insignia.
Santini is interested.
May 3, 1927, Bronx, New York
Sweat and blood drip to the cement floor and pools at the drain. It is a unique stench.
Santini does not move. He does not say a word. He does not look at the man chained to the ceiling, broken, battered, bloody, bruised. It is not his concern. Lucky Raspanti wears a butcher’s apron. He holds a cleaver in his hands. Flecks of meat and blood and hair cling to his clothes and blade. He looks Santini up and down.
“You’re the Boss’s errand boy,” Lucky recognizes. “Why did he send you here?”
Santini stares Lucky in the eye.
“Boss Adinolfi wants me to take on more responsibilities in the family. He thinks I’m old enough. He wants you to teach me.”
Lucky smiles, it is cruel and crooked. He is a short man. His arms are thick. They bulge with muscle. His chest is like a barrel. His chin is unshaven, coated with black gristle. Santini fears Lucky. Santini is in awe of Lucky. Santini wants to be like Lucky.
“He wants me to teach you,” Lucky repeats. He seems amused. He drops the cleaver, THUNK, it sticks to a wood block. “I’ll teach you. But, are you sure you can stomach it?”
Santini glances to the man chained to the ceiling. Santini is pale and shaky. His stomach will not settle. His head is light. The stench invades every pore of his being. He looks to the cleaver, speckled with bits of man.
Santini tells Lucky, “This blade is dull. I can sharpen it for you.”
Santini takes the cleaver in his hand.
December 19, 1928, Bronx, New York
It is a Colt M1911 pistol, designed by John M. Browning. First distributed in 1911. It is a single action, semi-automatic, with a seven round magazine feed. It is 210 mm turn to empirical long and weighs roughly 3 pounds. It has a .45 ACP cartridge.
It is slim and powerful.
Santini is in love.
Lucky says, “It is a defining moment in a young man’s life when he receives his first pistol”. He tells Santini to choose a sidearm, any sidearm, Lucky’s treat. When Santini picks up the M1911, there is no uncertainty. It fits his hand, it becomes an extension of him.
It only takes firing a few rounds before Santini understands the gun. His aim is dead on every shot after. Lucky watches Santini practice at the range. Lucky’s arms are folded over his chest. His face is grim. He is proud.
Santini will be a great soldier.
January 7, 1930, Manhattan, New York
Inside Devlins music plays, men speak loudly, glasses clink together, there is shouting and laughter. There is an orange glow in the windows. Outside, the streets are chilly. Santini stands on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, glancing between the bar at his back and down along the street. He knows he must stay alert.
This is Hell’s Kitchen. This is an Irish neighborhood. This is enemy territory.
Santini thinks of the Colt at his side, its weight is a comfort. He is alone. He is cold. He is nervous. His stomach will not rest. This, he feels, will turn out badly.
Lucky is inside the bar along with several of Capo Renato Genova’s favorite men, and the Capo himself. They are having a meeting with Tommy O’Dwyer, Irish Mob boss, to discuss a territory dispute. Several of O’Dwyer’s men had been found in the Bronx, in a neighborhood marked Adinolfi territory, pushing product. Those men were now at the bottom of the Bronx River.
Santini does not like Capo Genova. Capo Genova is foolish and brash. He makes decisions that endanger everyone. No other Capo would agree to a meeting in Hell’s Kitchen. Capo Genova believes he is invincible.
There is gunfire. Santini waits, his body is rigid, he listens. People are still in the bar, still drinking, laughing, chatting. Santini wonders if he heard wrong.
Now there is more gunfire, rapid, pulsing. People hear it. They pour out of the bar. Santini runs in. The bartender is armed, a rifle. He is moving up the stairs. Santini removes his Colt, fires once. The bartender drops.
Santini steps over the bartender’s body. He holds his Colt at ready, climbs the stairs. He turns a corner, sees a man with a gun leveled at him. Instinct pulls his head back. Bits of the wall shred from impact. Santini cannot keep his heart in his chest. It pounds frantic. It wants out. He wonders: What happened here? Where is Lucky?
The man with the gun approaches. Santini listens, he studies the man’s footfall, seeks his flow. Santini presses himself to the wall, slides his Colt into its holster. There is a knife in his belt. He retrieves it. The man’s gun proceeds the man.
All in one motion, Santini grabs the gun, yanks it forward, and slips his knife in and out of the man’s throat.
Blood sprays across Santini’s face and chest. He flinches.
The man grabs at his wound but he is already dead.
Two more men are down the hall. They see their friend die. They unholster their sidearms.
Santini uses the dead man as a shield. He draws his Colt. He waits as the men riddle his shield with bullets. He fires twice. The men drop.
Santini sprints down the hall to where the gun men have fallen. There is a door. It is shut. He listens for a moment.
Santini hears the Capo’s voice. He sounds desperate. Santini hears an Irishman. He sounds in charge. There are others in the room. They shuffle around and whisper amongst one another. They are not Lucky.
Santini considers entering the room. He thinks about saving the Capo. He is vastly outnumbered.
Santini grips his knife and gun tightly. He is drenched in blood. He now processes that he has killed four men. His heart slows. His world is quiet.
Lucky is dead.
Santini knows it in his heart. He realizes his face is damp and warm. His vision blurs. Santini is crying. He holsters his Colt. Turns his back on the door. He wipes the blood from his knife’s blade. He slips it back into his belt
The Capo is begging now. Pleading for his life. “Spare me, please!”
Lucky would not have begged. Lucky did not beg. Lucky died fighting.
Santini walks to the stairs. He exits the bar. He leaves Hell’s Kitchen. A single gunshot rings in his ears.
Santini is satisfied, vengeance is served.
February 16, 1931, Manhattan, New York
There are three mansions in New York City owned by the Adinolfi family. The one in Manhattan is the smallest of the three. It is also the prettiest. It is Victorian style. Large and majestic. There are turrets on its roof that stretch into the sky. It reminds Santini of a castle. This is his first time seeing it.
Boss Adinolfi greets Santini at the front gate. Boss Adinolfi has gotten smaller since Santini first met him. His presence has gotten larger. They shake hands, kiss cheeks. Santini is ushered inside. The gate slams shut behind them.
“You look well,” Boss Adinolfi praises. His Italian is as thick as ever.
Santini returns the compliment. His Italian is no longer rusty.
“Not at all like the little orphan from the street, I first met. Now you are a fine young man, Santini.” Boss Adinolfi claps Santini’s shoulder.
“It is because of all you have done for me. I am grateful to you, Boss Adinolfi.”
“Ah…mmhm…You will be how old soon?”
“Twenty! Ah…to be twenty again.” Boss Adinolfi leads them round the house. He motions Santini to follow. Santini is already following. “Walk with me in the garden a moment. Walk with me.”
The garden is beautiful. It is all green and bright colors. It smells of fragrant flowers in bloom. They follow a stone path. Boss Adinolfi talks of growing up in the old country, his childhood in Sicily, his parents’ arranged marriage, his father’s many mistresses, his early beginnings in crime, in the Cosa Nostra, his own arranged marriage, his own many mistresses.
Santini listens. He is silent. He is fascinated. He soaks up every word, eager to hear more. Finally, they exit the garden, and Boss Adinolfi seems to have no more to tell.
“Now. I have a job for you,” Boss Adinolfi announces. Santini straightens, stands at attention.
“Whatever you need.”
Boss Adinolfi smiles. It is the answer he expected. He gives Santini’s shoulder a squeeze.
“You have learned to drive?”
“Yes. I have.” Santini is proud of it. “Lucky taught me. He thought I might make a useful wheelman.”
There is a twinkle in Boss Adinolfi’s eye. He tells Santini to wait there. Boss Adinolfi disappears into the house. Santini waits. He watches the garden. A bright blue butterfly drops to the tip of a honeysuckle flower and sits a moment. Boss Adinolfi returns.
A young boy follows. He is small and slender. His hair is lightly colored. His complexion is smooth, his eyes a clear blue. He looks at Santini, expression cold and distant. Santini feels his heart, if only for a sliver of a second, stop. This boy is different, in his movements, in his flow, from anyone Santini has ever met before.
“This is my youngest grandson,” Boss Adinolfi proudly proclaims. He places a hand on the young boy’s shoulder, “Fausto.”
Santini does not know how to respond. He puts his hands in his pockets, tilts his head in a nod of acknowledgment, waits for direction. The boy, Fausto, lowers his face.
“Santini. I want you to drive Fausto to school.”
“To school?” Santini repeats. Boss Adinolfi is watching Fausto, his face is alight with pleasure and pride. Santini realizes that this is meant as an honor.
“Yes. To school. For now, you will be his driver. Is this good for you?” Boss Adinolfi peers at Santini now, expectant, curious, wondering if Santini truly understands: This young boy’s life is important, I put it in your hands.
Santini smiles broadly. “Of course. It would be my pleasure.”
“Good, good.” Boss Adinolfi beams. Santini feels his chest swell. “Now, you must leave or Fausto will be late.”
Boss Adinolfi gives Santini keys, instructs him: There is a Cadillac Coupe in the garage, use it; then Boss Adinolfi leaves. Fausto and Santini are alone. Fausto stares at the ground. Santini studies Fausto.
“Blue eyes. Are you really Italian?” Santini muses. Fausto fixes Santini with a look that cuts to the bone.
“I can’t speak Italian. I don’t know what you’re saying,” Fausto steadily informs Santini. His English is without a trace of accent. His eyes trail over Santini, assessing, searching, appraising him, from bottom to top.
Beneath that clear blue, Santini feels exposed. He does not like the feeling. This boy makes him uncomfortable.
“Are you just like the rest of them, then?” Fausto stares intently at Santini. Santini does not understand Fausto’s question. He remains silent. Fausto determines his answer. He scowls. He turns and strides away.
A heartbeat passes.
Santini follows Fausto.
April 6, 1931, Manhattan, New York
It is a long drive to Fausto’s school. It is a long drive back. Santini is intrigued. He finds the commute gets longer every passing day. The drive is always silent.
Santini asks other members of the family about Fausto. He gathers very little information. Fausto is a mystery.
Of the things Santini learns: Fausto is fourteen, he is the youngest son of Sotto Capo Carmine Adinolfi, Fausto has five brothers and one sister, he has not always lived in the Adinolfi mansion, and finally, the Capos all call Fausto ‘the prince’.
When Santini asks Tino “The Brick” Mendolia about Fausto he receives the response, “You’re driving Fausto around? Boss Adinolfi must really like you. Fausto is his favorite grandchild.”
Fausto sits in the backseat of the Cadillac. He reads his book. He reads a book every morning and every evening. Sometimes it is the same book. Sometimes not. Santini steals glances at Fausto in the rearview mirror. Santini thinks that Fausto appears sullen. Santini thinks that Fausto seems a bit sad.
“I heard something about you the other day.”
Santini glances Fausto in the rearview. Fausto rests his book between his legs. He stares at Santini with his clear blue eyes. They are acid eating away at Santini. Fausto has never before started a conversation with Santini.
“I heard you don’t have a family.”
Fausto looks out his passenger window. The cityscape passes by, reflects in his clear blue eyes. Santini waits for Fausto to finish his thought.
“It must be nice.”
Santini barks out a laugh. He is taken by surprise. He finds himself breathless, unable to stop laughing. He is so rarely surprised. Fausto regards Santini. His expression is dark.
“Most people wouldn’t say such a thing about it. They comment that it is a pity, that it is sad, or something like that,” Santini explains. His words are gasps between laughter. Fausto turns his attention back out the window. Santini lets the laughter die. He comments, “You’re a strange kid.”
Fausto is silent.
Santini thinks the conversation is over. He feels somber. He wants to hear Fausto talking. Fausto’s voice is soft and thoughtful. He carefully picks each word to say. He is in many ways wise. He is in many ways a child.
“It is nice, though.” Fausto stares out the window. He searches the distant horizon. He is lost in another world. “You aren’t predefined by the choices your family has made. You can choose your own life. You can define yourself entirely.”
Santini wonders how much of the nature of the Adinolfi family business is Fausto aware. Fausto is silent again. He says no more the rest of the drive. He does not continue to read his book.
For the first time in his life, Santini feels someone else’s sadness.
September 25, 1931, Manhattan, New York
Saint Augustine Academy for Boys is an imposing building. It is cold and dark. Its walls are made of hard, black stone. Its windows are towering painted glass. Santini waits in the Cadillac out front of the school. Students, young boys dressed all in the same uniform; gray slacks, grays blazers, crimson red ties, rush out of the building to their awaiting cars.
Fausto is late.
Santini worries and wonders what he should do. Does he enter the school? Does he search for Fausto?
The crowd of students thins. Time ticks by. Santini waits, stares at the school with uncertainty. He checks the Colt at his side, ensures it’s well hidden in his jacket. He exits the car. He strides quickly up the school steps. Inside, the building is colder and darker. Santini wanders its halls. He does not know where Fausto might be. He thinks to call for the boy.
Santini is found by a woman dressed in a black habit and cross. She asks him what he needs. He tells her he is looking for Fausto Adinolfi. She is confused. She asks if he means Fausto Denman. Santini is uncertain. He hears his name and turns around. Fausto stands at the end of the hall. His bag is slung over his shoulder. His uniform is rumpled. His eyes are clouded. His mouth is a terse frown.
Fausto exits the school. Santini follows. Fausto is angry. He commands Santini: Never go inside my school again.
Santini is angry too. He feels like a scolded child that has done nothing wrong. He thinks to argue. To tell Fausto to be on time. To tell Fausto that he was worried. The words sound foolish in Santini’s mind. He says nothing. He holds the door open for Fausto.
On the drive home, Fausto is quiet. He does not read. He sits and stares out the window. Santini tries not to look at Fausto, but, at every available moment, his eyes wander to Fausto unbidden.
Fausto is brooding. His brow is drawn together. He chews the right corner of his bottom lip. His hair is disoriented. His face is splotched red. His blazer is missing. The first few top buttons of his shirt are undone. Santini can see the sharp line of Fausto’s clavicle, the pale white of his chest like porcelain. There is a discoloration, a blossom of purple and red.
“Did you get in a fight?”
Fausto’s eyes widen. He darts a look to Santini. Fausto is panicked, flustered. He brings a hand up to pull the shirt over his bruising. He glares out the window.
“It’s none of your business.” Fausto’s expression relaxes. His voice becomes quiet, forlorn. “It’s nothing.”
Santini thinks Fausto looks very lost and alone. Santini thinks that Fausto is too young to look like that. Santini grips the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles blanch. He glares at the street.
Fausto Denman, the teacher had said. The boys at Saint Augustine do not know that Fausto is an Adinolfi. They do not know who they touch, torment, torture.
Santini vows to kill whoever hurt Fausto.
September 30, 1931, Manhattan, New York
There is blood on the snow. Red on white.
Fausto sits on his knees. He is out on the street on the sidewalk. He holds in his jacket something close to his body. He cradles it gingerly. Santini approaches, confused.
“What are you doing? I’ve been waiting at the car. Come on, you’ll be late for school.”
Fausto looks up at Santini. There are tears in Fausto’s eyes. Santini feels his breath catch. He has never seen such an expression. It hurts him. In Fausto’s arms is a bundle of fur matted with blood.
“We have to help it.”
Santini puts his hands in his pockets. He tilts his head to the sky.
“It’s just a stray cat.”
Fausto is quiet. Santini looks to him. Fausto is clearly distraught. His cheeks are red. His nose runs with snot. He is trembling. Santini wonders how long Fausto has been sitting in the snow with a half-dead animal in his arms.
An hour later, Santini is sitting in a waiting room. There is a box in his lap. He is out of place. The other people in the waiting room know it. They stare at him when they think he will not notice. Santini notices. He does nothing. He does not care that they are watching, studying, assessing him. He sits patiently and waits.
Fausto went to school with Santini’s words, “I’ll take care of it”, at his back. Fausto does not trust Santini. Fausto has no choice.
When Santini picks Fausto up from school, Fausto demands, “What did you do with the cat, asshole?”
“Mew.” It is a sudden and soul-saving cry.
Fausto falls into the backseat of the car. He peers into the box. The cat is clean, bandaged. It looks up at Fausto with bright green eyes. It is slightly doped, it has a scar on the side of its head, but it is alive and it will live.
Fausto looks at Santini and smiles. It is the most beautiful thing Santini has ever seen.
Santini cannot make his heart stop pounding so fast.
November 15, 1931, Manhattan, New York
It is a simple motion. A flick of the wrist. It is about flow. It is about rhythm. It must be the right angle. It must be the right speed.
Santini looks to his blade. He wipes it with a cloth. He tests it against his thumb. He smiles, satisfied. It is sharp enough to split hair. He sheaths the knife, picks up the next one. This is an art. Santini is a master.
It is not easy being Fausto’s driver. Santini does a lot of waiting. He thinks it is a lot of nothing. He is expected to wait until Fausto has need of him. Fausto only goes to school and home again. He never asks to be driven anywhere else.
Santini wants more to do. He does not complain. As the days pass, he grows restless.
Fausto enters the room. He holds his cat in his arms. She has healed well. She is strong and playful. She is in love with Fausto. Fausto is in love with her.
Santini does not like cats. Fausto’s cat has given Santini many scars, her claws snagging at his flesh, stealing it in chunks. He has considered shooting it.
“I’m hungry.” Fausto stares expectantly at Santini. Santini stares confused at Fausto.
“This is not the kitchen.”
Fausto puts his cat down on the table where Santini has set his many knives. Fausto scratches the cat behind her ears. She purrs loudly. Santini is annoyed.
“That is not a place for a cat,” he points out. Fausto ignores the information.
“There’s nothing to eat.” Fausto is lying. The kitchen is fully stocked. There is a personal chef in employ at the Adinolfi mansion. She does the grocery shopping. She is skilled at various cuisines. She and Fausto argue often. Santini does not know why.
“I cannot help you.”
“I want to go eat somewhere,” Fausto decides. Santini is interested. He sheathes the knife that he is sharpening.
“I don’t know.”
Santini is annoyed again.
“Where do you want to eat?”
Santini locks eyes with Fausto. Fausto is eager, interested, hopeful. It fills Santini with a strange glowing warmth.
It is not often that Santini eats out. Less often that he chooses the place to eat out at. He can only think of one place: Figlio’s Diner. Santini does not expect to be recognized. He is greeted as a long lost friend when he enters. The staff hug him, kiss him. He feels Fausto’s eyes watching. Chef Paolo comes from the kitchen to shake Santini’s hand and ask of his well-being.
Fausto and Santini are seated in the back. Fausto orders tagliatelle al pomodoro. Santini asks for spaghetti alla marinara. They sit in the candle light. Santini tells Fausto he bussed tables at Figlio’s when he was Fausto’s age.
Fausto laughs. The sound sends shivers across Santini’s skin.
“You started out bussing tables and now you’re a driver. You’ve come so far in the world.” Santini knows that Fausto is teasing him but he feels a tinge of sorrow. Santini does not like that he does so little. Fausto is silent a moment. “What is it that you want, Santini? What is your dream?”
“I don’t know. Maybe…to do more for the family.”
Fausto does not look satisfied with Santini’s answer.
They eat the rest of their pasta in silence.
Santini watches Fausto from the corner of his eye.
Fausto is lost in his own world. He smiles as he eats. He savors each bite. He licks the fork clean, small pink bit of flesh slipping, slick with saliva, along the silver tines.
Santini is unsure if he has ever had a dream.
December 20, 1931, Manhattan, New York
Fire is a fickle beast. It gives and it takes. It consumes all it touches, only to diminish into nothing in the blink of an eye.
Santini can feel Fausto’s eyes on him. Santini pretends to watch the fire. He sits close enough for the flames to burn his breath. Fausto lays on his back across the floor staring up at Santini. The snow is thick outside. There has been another blizzard warning.
Fausto has family in town. They are relatives of Fausto’s mother, Sophie Gregori. Fausto is hiding from them. He tells his father he is shopping for Christmas. He hides in Santini’s house. Santini is uncertain how to feel about it.
There is not much inside of Santini’s house. It has a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. There is a display case of guns. Guns are hidden throughout the rooms. There are knives hanging on the walls. Santini has a radio. It does not work.
Santini likes the way Fausto speaks his name, as though Fausto is tasting a lump of sugar and likes the way it feels against his tongue.
“How many people have you killed?”
Santini shifts in his chair. He has a clock over the kitchen. It is noisy, ticking away each second like the steady drumming of his heart.
“What makes you think I have killed people?”
Fausto sits up. He looks into Santini’s face. Fausto’s expression is bemused. His hair is mussed. His cheeks are lightly reddish.
“You’re a hitter, aren’t you?”
“I am a driver.”
Fausto sighs. He falls back to the floor. He rests his hands on his stomach. He stares at the ceiling. He is disgruntled. Santini feels distressed.
“And I do not keep count.”
A smile teases the corners of Fausto’s mouth. Santini feels relieved. They are silent. The fire cracks, flickers, and pops.
Santini leans forward. He spreads his palms before the fire.
“What do you want for Christmas?”
Fausto stares at Santini with his clear blue eyes. Fausto is waiting. He is watching. He is entranced. He is in entrancing. He breathes, and his breath envelopes everything, and becomes one with it. He is light and he is warmth. The fire pales beside him and he is beside Santini.
Santini hopes that Fausto is always beside him.
Fausto smiles brightly.
Santini is at peace with the world.
March 14, 1932, Manhattan, New York
The Monday commute is always the most difficult. It is a task to wake so early after two days of sleeping in. Traffic is thick. People are angry, cranky. When stopped, they shout at one another through open windows.
Santini is tense. They are running late. Fausto does not seem concerned. He relaxes across the backseat. His eyes are closed, his arms folded across his stomach. He looks content. A car darts in front of the Cadillac. Santini slams the brakes, reaches instinctively for his gun, stops himself, and chooses to respond verbally.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, asshole!”
Fausto stirs, blinks his eyes open, looks to Santini. Santini is sheepish. He did not mean to speak so harshly in front of Fausto. Santini focuses again on the road. He settles into his seat, loosens his grip on the steering wheel. He turns around a corner and is happy to find the traffic thin.
Santini’s stomach twists. He waits for Fausto to finish the thought.
“What is your favorite color?”
Santini is uncertain how to respond. He does not understand the question. He tells Fausto as much. Fausto makes a strange face, rolls his eyes up and presses his lips together.
“Oh…okay. What about food? You like spaghetti, right? With marinara?”
“I suppose.” Santini turns down another street. There are fewer cars. He is relieved. They may not be too late.
“You eat it a lot.” Fausto sits up. He leans forward, balances against the front seat. “When is your birthday?”
“You’re full of questions this morning.”
Fausto’s shoulders roll up to briefly frame his soft features. He picks at a loose thread from the leather seat cover.
“It’s for school. I have to write a report on someone I know.”
Santini feels warm. He does not understand why. He thinks about it a moment. The streetlight is red, Santini comes to a stop.
“I don’t think a gangster is quite what your teacher had in mind. Perhaps you could write about someone from your family, instead?”
A car pulls up beside the Cadillac. Its windows are dark. Santini notes the rest of the street is empty. He can hear Fausto’s breath beside his ear, it is hot against his skin.
“Everyone in my family is a gangster,” Fausto points out.
The windows of the car next to them begin rolling down. Santini watches, his heart drums in his mind. His stomach is heavy. Fausto leans forward to look at Santini.
“Santini? What’s with you…?”
Out of the windows pokes the lips of guns. Santini reacts. He grabs Fausto round the neck. He pulls Fausto over the seat into the front. Fausto voices complaint. Santini throws his body over Fausto. The other car opens fire. Glass shatters overhead. Metal cracks and screams.
Fausto is small. He is so slender and soft. Santini worries that his weight will crush Fausto. Fausto is very warm, his heat permeates throughout Santini’s entire being. Fausto buries his face in Santini’s chest, his fingers curl in Santini’s clothes. Fausto’s scent is light and sweet.
The bullets stop. There is a squeal of car wheels spinning quickly across pavement.
“Stay,” Santini commands. He pulls himself up, kicks open the door, leaps from the Cadillac. His gun is unholstered, he levels it at the car speeding away. He fires one shot. The bullet cuts through the rear view window and one of the men in the back slumps. The car is gone.
Santini turns around, gun at ready. Fausto rushes towards Santini. Santini relaxes.
“I told you to stay in the car.”
Santini is angry with Fausto. There could have been more gunmen. Fausto was careless exiting the Cadillac before Santini told him it was safe. Careless, reckless, foolish. Santini is so angry that he could hug Fausto tight and never let go.
“You’re bleeding,” Fausto says. He is at Santini’s side now. His fingers nimbly undo the buttons of Santini’s right sleeve.
Santini sees that Fausto is right. The sleeve is drenched with his blood. He feels it now. It is a sharp, clear pain. Fausto rolls the sleeve up. He inspects the injury. He is pale and trembling. His cheeks are damp with long since shed tears. There is a dark, wet spot on the front of his gray blazer.
“Forget me. Are you alright? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Fausto ignores Santini’s concerns.
“It doesn’t look like the bullet went in. I guess, you were just grazed. It’s a deep cut.” Fausto pulls out his handkerchief. He wraps it tight around Santini’s arm. Fausto’s hands now have Santini’s blood on them. Fausto stares at his hands blankly. “They must have thought I was my father.”
Santini does not agree. He does not say so.
Santini is furious.
March 20, 1932, Manhattan, New York
A wood chair crashes, splinters, against the wall. The Sotto Capo is not happy. Several of his men attempt to appease him. They offer empty vows and promises that carry no meaning or comfort. Santini stands in the back, watches silently.
“Some trigger happy asshole takes a shot at my son, my son, and I’m supposed to do nothing?”
Tino “The Brick” brings the Sotto Capo a drink, an amber liquid in a crystal glass. The Sotto Capo throws the drink down his throat, then smashes the crystal against the wall.
“I want that fucking spic dead!”
“Going to war with the Puerto Ricans right now would be suicide,” Tino reasons.
“I don’t want to go to war. I just want his fucking head on a pike.”
Joey Baducci comments, “Your son is alive. We could leave it at that for now and…”
The Sotto Capo throws a paperweight Joey’s direction. Joey barely dodges.
“You bozo. Don’t you get that it is the fucking principle. It does not matter if my son is alive or if he is dead.”
Santini crosses his arms. He flinches inwardly. He does not agree. It matters very much that Fausto is alive.
“What matters is that Carlos -fucking- Santiago -fucking- Ruiz -fucking- Vega took a shot at my son.”
“If we could get at Carlos, Carmine, he’d be dead. We’d of put a hit out on him years ago. But he’s too well guarded. No one could get at him.”
All eyes turn to Santini.
“I’ll kill Carlos. Just give me the order.”
“Who the fuck are you?” the Sotto Capo spits out.
Tino “The Brick” leans close to the Sotto Capo, whispers to him, “That’s Santini. The driver.”
There is recognition in the Sotto Capo’s eyes. He looks Santini up and down. If he is impressed, it does not show.
“You think you can clip Carlos.”
“It would be suicide.”
“Shut up, Joey,” the Sotto Capo growls. He glares at Santini. His expression is hard. “Answer me. You think you can-”
“I won’t be able to send anyone with-”
“I don’t need anyone. I’ll go alone.”
The Sotto Capo’s fat lips spread into a grin. “I like you. You’ve got guts. If you think you can clip that dirty spic, you go right ahead. If it goes south, though…I never gave you the word. Capisce?”
Santini tilts his head. He nods. Everyone stares at Santini. They think that he will fail. They think that he will die. They think it is better him than them.
Santini will kill Carlos Santiago Ruiz Vega that night.
May 17, 1932 Manhattan, New York
The new Cadillac drives smoothly. It smells clean. It is slightly smaller than the first one. It sits out front of the Adinolfi mansion. There is a young man in a crisp black outfit wiping it down with a cloth. He wears a black newsboy hat and watches Santini approach. He extends a hand to Santini.
“Willy Salerno, I’m going to be driving the Adinolfi kid around. I think his name was Fontane or Franky…”
Santini does not accept the extended hand.
“Fausto?” he suggests. His heart is in his stomach. His head feels light. He wants to shoot someone, something, his hand itches for his gun. Willy snaps his fingers and brightens.
“Yeah. That’s it. Fausto.”
Santini enters the mansion. Boss Adinolfi is there. The Sotto Capo is there. A few others are there, Capos each. They are discussing something. They fall silent when Santini enters. They watch him approach. Santini looks to Boss Adinolfi with concern.
“Have I done something to disappoint you?”
A smile fills Boss Adinolfi’s face.
“On the contrary, Santini, my boy, you have done me very proud.” He walks over to Santini. He grasps Santini’s hand, kisses Santini’s cheeks in greeting. Santini is confused. He can barely bite back the frustration.
“Then why am I being replaced as Fausto’s driver?”
Boss Adinolfi waves the question away.
“The family now has different need of you.” Boss Adinolfi walks back to the other men. He motions Santini to follow. Santini feels cemented to the floor. He struggles to walk. “My son, Carmine, is impressed with your abilities. He has personally requested your services.”
Sotto Capo Carmine nods his head in confirmation of his father’s words.
“What do you say, Santini? Will you work for me? You would report directly to me, take orders directly from me. You will command all those beneath me. You will be my personal soldier, body guard, servant, whatever I need of you. Not to mention, you would get a hefty salary raise.”
Santini feels overwhelmed. He has been restless over the past years. He has wanted more to do. This is his opportunity.
One of the Capo’s laughs. “Look at him, he’s speechless. It must have been so boring for you, carting around the young ‘prince’ for so long.”
The others break into laughter. Santini smiles distantly. Boring. In some ways, driving Fausto was very boring.
“I serve the family,” Santini says. He swells with pride. “I am very honored-”
Santini lifts his eyes to the door, his heart catches. All the men turn. Fausto stares out at them, through them. He grips his bag strewn over his shoulder. His clear blue eyes shimmer. His mouth forms a terse frown. Santini thinks that Fausto looks sad. Santini feels saddened.
“Fausto, what are you doing?” the Sotto Capo demands. “You will be late for school. Your driver is waiting.”
Fausto shuffles through the room. He does not say a word or spare a glance to the men he passes. When he reaches Santini, he hesitates for a fraction of a heartbeat.
Fausto is gone.
The men return to their conversation. They have big plans for Santini. They clap Santini on the shoulders. They exalt his accomplishments. They gather around him. Santini expresses his gratitude. He smiles. He laughs. He aches inside.
Santini feels empty.
December 23, 1933, Manhattan, New York
The Queen of Hearts has blue eyes and a gold scepter. She stands majestically beside her King and Jack. She’s looking for her Ace. Over the top of his cards, Santini eyes the men across the table.
Tino “The Brick” is an easy read. He rubs his hand over his shaved head whenever his hand is good. He worries his bottom lip when he hopes its good. He lays his cards back on the table and never looks at them again when they are bad.
Renaldo Quaglia is less easy a read but after an hour Santini has figured out all of his tells as well.
They sit in the kitchen of the Adinolfi mansion. There is not much to do. The Gregori family is visiting. Diana Gregori, Sophie’s younger sister, enters the kitchen often. She is pretty. Her hair is thick black curls. Her body is filled out well. She has an ample bosom and strong hips.
Tino and Renaldo indulge Diana each time she stops to chat with their group. Santini is silent. He gives only one word answers to her abundance of questions.
Santini is annoyed with Diana’s interruptions. She leans against him, whispers suggestions in his ear that he thanks her for and ignores.
The door to the kitchen opens. The men stop and look. They expect Diana again. Santini does not bother. He waits for her boisterous greeting. It does not come. He glances to the door. His breath catches.
Fausto is there.
It has been some time since Santini has seen Fausto. Fausto’s hair is longer, it falls into his clear blue eyes, past his ears. He has grown an inch. He is still small and slender. He wears a large colorful striped sweater, it swallows him whole. He looks at the men undaunted. He walks across the kitchen.
Santini studies his cards. He rearranges them. He can feel Fausto coming closer with each hastened beat of his heart.
On the table in front of Santini, Fausto places a small, wrapped package.
“I made it,” Fausto says. Then he is gone.
The men stare at the package as though a bomb ready to go off. Santini is afraid to disturb it. He thinks if he touches it, he will find it isn’t real, and that the moment that produced it had never happened. The package smells of honey and spice.
“Are you gonna open it?” Renaldo asks. Santini is silent.
Tino reaches a hand for the package, “Well if you don’t want it…”
The Colt is in Santini’s hand before even he realizes he’s drawn it. Tino stares, pale, down its barrel. He swallows, pulls away from the gift. Santini re-holsters the Colt. Renaldo is thoughtful. He is ignoring the interaction between Tino and Santini.
“Hey, Santini. Explain something to me. Fausto hates us all because he thinks we’re nothing but soulless, cold-blooded, killers. So why does he like you? Doesn’t he know, out of all of us, you’re the worst?”
Diana returns again. Her laughter precedes her. She goes home with Santini at the end of the night. Her body is slick and firm beneath him. She writhes and gyrates sensually.
Santini thinks, for a moment, he may hate himself. He thinks of Fausto. Fausto, who is small and slender. Fausto, who speaks softly, carefully choosing each word. Fausto, who is lost and sullen. Fausto, who is light and warmth. Fausto, who smells of sweetness.
Santini thrusts rhythmically inside of Diana. Santini is the worst of them all. He is more soulless, he is more cold-blooded, than any other killer. Diana screams in ecstasy, Santini cums and Santini hates himself because Fausto should hate him.
Fausto’s present sits on the bedside stand, unopened.
Santini cannot explain.
July 2, 1935, Manhattan, New York
The day is hot. Children race in the street in bathing suites. Women stand in circles, gossiping, fanning themselves. The Sotto Capo sits beside his pool. He is drinking a hard iced tea. Two of his Capos are beside him, they are discussing business. Santini stands nearby in the shade of a tree watching. He is ever alert.
After a time, the Capos leave. Sotto Capo Carmine’s third eldest son, Nunzio, and his daughter, Isabella, join him. They speak about personal family matters. Santini has noticed before that none of Carmine’s other children resemble Fausto. They all have dark eyes and black hair.
Carmine, Nunzio, and Isabella do not concern themselves with Santini as they talk. They do not think Santini cares about their conversations. Mostly, they are right. Santini remains silent and vigilant.
They speak Fausto’s name. Santini tries fighting the desire and loses. He tilts his head to better hear.
“…spoken with nonno. He really wants to go. This is important to him.” Isabella’s words are a plea.
“What does he need to go to a university for, anyhow? I never went, I turned out fine!” Carmine jabs the air angrily with his hands as he speaks.
Santini remembers then that Fausto is eighteen. He cannot picture Fausto as an adult. Santini has not seen Fausto in almost two years.
“Father. It is a different time.” Nunzio slouches forward. He does not want to argue. It is unlike him to disagree with the Sotto Capo. “And Fausto is a different person. He wants to go, you should let him.”
Santini feels his chest constrict. France is far, too far for the Adinolfi family to protect.
“He couldn’t find a fucking university here in good ol’ America?”
Santini pictures Fausto, fourteen, reading in the backseat of a Cadillac. His sadness stretches throughout the car. Santini can hear Fausto’s words echoing back to him: It must be nice…you can define yourself entirely.
It is not Santini’s place to say, “Fausto would do well in France.”
Sotto Capo Carmine and his children look to Santini. They are surprised. They are uncertain. They glance amongst one another. Santini is silent once more. The Sotto Capo clears his throat, he shifts nervously.
“I suppose he would. Fausto ain’t a normal kid. Never has been. Maybe France is just the place for him.”
It is settled. Fausto will go to a University in France. He will study culinary arts. He will leave his family behind. He will define himself far from the choices his family has made.
Santini wants to be happy for Fausto.
July 24, 1935, Manhattan, New York
Fausto leaves for France in three days. Sotto Capo Carmine wants to give his son a gift. He does not know what to buy. He does not have the time to shop. He does not have the time to deliver the gift. Or so he claims.
Santini volunteers to buy and deliver Sotto Capo Carmine’s gift for Fausto in his stead. If anyone is surprised by Santini’s charitably, they do not express it.
Santini stands outside the door of the apartment of the address the Sotto Capo wrote on a slip of paper for Santini. It is Fausto’s apartment. He has lived there for the past year. Santini is nervous. He wonders if Fausto will remember him. He wonders if he will recognize Fausto. He grips tightly the box in his hands and knocks on the door.
The door swings open.
Isabella stands there. Santini is slightly disappointed.
Santini holds the box out and explains, “This is for Fausto,” then quickly adds, “From your father.”
Santini expects Isabella to take the box and shut Santini out. She widens the door, ushers Santini inside.
“Fausto’s in the back.”
Isabella closes the door and turns to walk away. The inside of the apartment is mostly bare. There are several boxes scattered around the floor, most are sealed and labeled.
Santini hesitates a few heartbeats. Isabella looks at Santini anxiously, shoos him down the hall.
The apartment smells of Fausto. It is sweet. It is filled with his warmth. Santini walks down the hall slowly, uncertainly, reveling in the atmosphere. He stops at the final room. The door is slightly open. Santini can see it is the bedroom. He can see Fausto inside. Santini feels a squeeze on his heart.
Fausto is certainly older but he has not changed. His hair, shaggy and loose, is pinned from out of his eyes. He has not grown in height since last Santini saw him. Fausto’s body is still slender. His complexion fair. He is dressed in loose trousers and a short sleeved cotton shirt. Sunlight cuts through the room from a window and casts Fausto in a celestial glow.
Santini realizes this may be the last time he ever lays eyes on Fausto.
Santini takes a moment to cherish it. Santini knows he cannot stare forever. He knocks on the door.
“Issy, I told you, no visitors…” Fausto freezes. His eyes are locked on Santini. His expression is unreadable. “Oh. It’s you.”
They hold onto one another’s gaze for a heartbeat, two, three.
Santini drops his eyes. His body feels on fire. He cannot explain the ache and swell in his chest. Fausto turns his head to the side. His cheeks are slightly colored. Santini clears his throat, steps forward into the room.
“Your father wishes to express his congratulations for your accomplishment. He would like you to accept this gift as a show of his pride.”
Fausto steps towards Santini. He gingerly takes the box. He hugs it to his body. His eyes are low.
“Oh. Right. Thanks.” Fausto is quiet. Santini does not know what else to say or do. He nods his head and turns to leave. “Was that all?”
Santini pauses at the doorway. He is confused. He feels flustered. He does not know what else Fausto could want.
“Wait there.” Fausto sighs. He shuffles and makes a lot of noise. Santini turns to look at Fausto, curious. Fausto is digging through a packed box on his bed. He finds something, walks to Santini and holds it out, “Here. Take it.”
Santini does as told. It is a small box. He glances to Fausto, questioning. Fausto is opening his own package. He looks at its contents. His face is confused.
“They’re knives.” Santini explains. He thinks it should be obvious. Then realizes and further explains, “For cooking.”
“They’re nice. Thank you.” Fausto smiles up at Santini. Santini can only smile back. Fausto looks expectantly at Santini. Santini starts, looks to the package in his hand. He opens it and shakes out its contents.
“It’s a locket?”
“Yes.” Fausto puts his present on the bed. He stretches his arms over his head. He yawns loudly. He plops, sitting, on the bed and looks at Santini thoughtfully, “I know you’re not a jewelry person but it used to belong to my mother and I got to thinking awhile ago. You don’t have anything from your family, and I have too much from mine…I thought maybe I could give something I have from my family to you. This is the only thing I have that I like, so I want you to have it.”
Santini is happier than he’s ever been before, he barely recognizes the emotion.
“I can’t accept this.” He holds it out to Fausto. Fausto looks disappointed.
“It’s important to you.”
“That’s why I’m giving it you.”
“And I do have something from my family. My coat. It belonged to my father.”
Fausto’s smile widens. He leans back on his bed and looks happily up at Santini. Santini does not understand his sudden joy.
“Keep the locket. It’s impolite not to accept a gift.” Fausto stands again. “And this way now you have something from your father and my mother; a family.”
Santini cannot argue. He mumbles something he hopes sounds like a “thank you” and slips the gift into his back pocket.
“I guess this is a real good-bye then.” Fausto puts a hand out in front of Santini. “Good luck, Santini, I hope you can make your dream come true.”
Santini looks at Fausto. The light is at Fausto’s back, it illuminates him beautifully. Santini takes Fausto’s hand.
“I hope your dream comes true as well.” Santini turns to leave. Fausto returns to his packing. Santini pauses, his hand rests on the doorframe. “Fausto?”
Fausto tilts his head to Santini.
“What is your dream?”
Fausto is taken aback. He stares at the box on his bed a moment. He smiles to himself.
“Happiness.” He meets Santini’s eyes. “My dream is happiness.”
Santini realizes then that he too dreams for Fausto’s happiness.
December 29, 1936, Somewhere Along the US 20, New York
Under the bridge in the dead of night all noise is drowned out. Santini listens as Willy Salerno and Joey Baducci chat casually beside the car. Willy is supposed to be learning from Santini. He is only a few years younger than Santini, twenty-two. He is eager, interested, but a poor study. This is his first execution.
Five men are lined up. They are blindfolded. They are tied at the wrists. They are gagged. They are on their knees. The only noise they can make is muffled, anguished sobs.
Santini loads his Colt.
“So…what did these guys do, anyhow?” Willy wonders. Santini pauses. Joey gives Willy a look. Santini chambers another bullet.
“It’s not your place to ask. Boss wants someone dead, you make him dead. That’s all you need to know.”
Santini stands behind the first man. He motions Willy over. Willy comes to stand beside Santini. Santini points his gun at the back of the man’s skull.
“Look. See. Where you shoot is important. Always be aware. Be certain when you shoot that it will kill. The first bullet should be the last. You should never need any more than one.”
Willy folds his hands behind his head. “Really? Why’s that? It’s not like we got a shortage of bullets…”
Santini bites back his frustration. He takes a slow breath.
“But you may have a shortage of time. Or you may not have the chance to re-chamber if you run out. Understand?”
Willy whistles low. He nods but grins and says, “We got plenty of time right now, though.”
Santini lightly slaps Willy across the back of his head. Willy makes a noise of pain, grabs the injured area, demands an explanation. It is his typical behavior. He does not respect Santini. They are too close in age.
“You should listen to Santini, kid. Santini is a real professional. He was the youngest hitter when he first started for the Adinolfi family. He was barely your age when he clipped the boss of the Ruiz-Santiago Syndicate.” Joey leans against the car. He lights a cigarette. Santini is grateful of him.
Willy does not look convinced. He rubs the back of his head and glares at Santini. Santini levels his Colt at the back of the first man’s head. He keeps his eyes locked with Willy’s. He pulls the trigger. Blood, brain, and bone explode out of the man’s face. He falls to the ground. Willy pales considerably. Santini holds his Colt to Willy.
“Shoot the next one.”
Willy does not take the gun. He stumbles away from the dead body. Joey laughs at Willy’s sudden turn of stomach. Santini ignores Willy. He moves down the line.
Santini calls to Willy, “If you puke, I will shoot you too.”
They bury the bodies beneath the bridge. They pile into the car and head back towards New York City. Joey is driving. He teases Willy. Willy is in the backseat. He is whining. Santini sits silently. He studies the passing scenery. He drifts to a place thousands of miles away and across a sea of blue.
“Hey, did you hear about the Sotto Capo’s son? Frankie or Phil something.”
Santini blinks, he is back in the car.
“Fausto?” Joey provides. “I think I heard something about him. He came into town for the holidays, right?”
Santini’s heart pounds. His face is hot. He fidgets with his shirt, it gives him something to do with his hands. He feels the locket beneath the fabric.
“Yeah. Word is he won’t be leaving town though.”
Santini’s body turns to ice. He cannot breath. He cannot think. The world is spinning round and round he cannot make it stop. Willy continues to talk.
“…can’t say I’m surprised. I drove that punk kid around for a few months. Mouthiest, most stuck up, son-of-a-bitch…you know, all the Capos call him the ‘prince’, suits the little fucker…”
Santini listens. Which each word from Willy’s mouth, Santini slips into a darker, colder place.
Fausto has done something. He has done something terrible. No one will say what. But it has caused shame to the Adinolfi family. It seems he has betrayed the Cosa Nostra. The other families cry for justice and justice they will receive. Boss Adinolfi’s decision had come down that morning: Fausto must die.
Inside, Santini feels he is dying too.
January 2, 1937, Manhattan, New York
Boss Adinolfi wears the carpet of his main office thin. Santini watches the older man but does not see him. His mind cannot hold a single thought. Isabella is there. She pleads with her grandfather.
“Please, nonno, there must be another way. This is all a misunderstanding. Fausto – you know he would never betray the family!”
“Silence, Isabella! Do you think this is easy for me? He is my beloved grandchild.”
Boss Adinolfi slumps against his desk. He is quiet, his eyes linger too long on an empty spot on the floor. For the first time in all the years Santini has known him, Boss Adinolfi seems old and tired.
“Don’t you understand. I am sending him a kindness. The other families…were they to carry out retribution…they would not be so kind.”
Isabella shakes her head. Her tears fall to the floor. She hugs herself. She collapses into a chair and turns her face away.
Santini stirs. He stands and walks to Boss Adinolfi. Boss Adinolfi hands him a slip of paper. There is an address written on it. Santini takes it and, for a moment, Boss Adinolfi refuses to let go.
“Make it quick. Make it painless.”
Santini cannot bring himself to say anything. His chin dips into a nod but does not rise again.
This is no kindness for Santini.
Three Hours Ago, Brooklyn, New York
The apartment building smells of cabbage. It is dark. It is cold. Tino “The Brick” is there. Two others are there, Oliviero “Four Fingers” LaFata and Vasco “The Butcher” Palermi. They greet Santini grimly. Santini says nothing in return.
Santini enters the apartment with a suitcase. There is a couch in the living area, a television set, a bookcase filled with books. To the left is a hallway. Where it leads, Santini neither knows nor cares. To the back right is a kitchen nook. Beside it, a dining area. In the dining area, there is a table.
Santini’s heart breaks slowly, tiny pieces chipping away with each step he takes forward.
Fausto sits in a chair at the dining room table. He is reading a book. He does not look up when Santini enters. He does not acknowledge the other men in the room. He seems unconcerned. His hair falls around his face. His legs are drawn up on the chair, he hugs his knees with one arm. He is focused entirely on the book in front of him.
Santini places his case on the table. It is now no struggle to keep his eyes from Fausto. Santini cannot bear to look at Fausto.
Santini opens the case. Inside is a Beretta M1934 with magazine and silencer. Santini lifts the gun out, feels its weight and checks its sight. He lifts out the silencer barrel, begins screwing it into place.
Santini freezes. The gun is too heavy in his hand. There is a roaring in his ears.
“I’m glad you’re the one they sent.”
Silence swarms, festers inside, and devours Santini.
Vasco laughs from the couch at a show on the television. Oliviero and Tino are arguing over something inconsequential. Santini’s heart begins to beat again. He locks the silencer into place. He loads the gun.
“Can we get this over with? I have a date tonight?” Oliviero is standing at the edge of the dining room. Vasco gets up from the couch. He switches off the television.
“Same girl you been seeing?”
“Yeah. I kind of like her. She ain’t too flashy but she puts out.”
Santini cannot see straight. He cannot hear. The floor is swallowing him. He can feel his legs already being chewed up by the gnashing floorboards. Santini breaths deep. He pinches his eyes shut, rubs his fingers over them.
“I’m ready,” Santini says.
Fausto closes his book. He stands from the table. He walks by Santini. The breeze from his passing carries his sweet scent.
“So where do you want me…?”
“Right here is probably fine.” Tino maneuvers Fausto into a spot between the dining room and living room. He guides him with a hand on the shoulder.
Santini feels sick. He takes the gun and moves beside Tino. Oliviero takes up a position in the dining room by the table. Vasco stands by the front door.
Fausto turns to Santini. Santini tries to hold his hand steady. He looks to Tino confused.
“In the face?” Santini tries to keep his voice low. He doesn’t trust it to not break.
“Kid’s request.” Tino shrugs and pulls a face. He seems to think lightly of this whole set-up. He’s eager to be done with it all. Santini wonders bitterly if Tino also has a date. “Wants it to look like a botched robbery.”
“It’s okay, Santini.”
Santini glances at Fausto sidelong. Fausto is calm. He is staring straight at Santini. In his eyes, there is no one else in the room.
“I like it better this way. Because this way…”
Fausto smiles. It is soft and it is slightly tinged with sadness. It shatters Santini’s last remaining shred of sanity.
“You’ll be the last thing I see.”
Santini levels the gun at Fausto. His face is grim and hard.
“But, if it makes it easier on you, I’ll close my eyes.” Santini watches as Fausto’s eyes slip shut.
In that instant, thoughts burst into Santini. Words of the past echo in his mind:
A man should have a purpose.
What do you want?
Do you think you can stomach it?
This is a defining moment.
I serve the family.
Make your dreams come true.
My dream is happiness.
“Hurry up and pull the fucking trigger, Santini.”
Santini is back in the garden at the Adinolfi mansion. Fausto stands before him. His complexion is smooth, his eyes a clear blue. A butterfly sets on the lip of a honeysuckle. Santini understands now. He understands everything. He has found the real flow of the world.
Santini pulls the trigger.
The world snaps back into sharp focus.
“Santini, what the hell?”
Oliviero crumples to the floor, blood pouring from the bullet-sized hole in his forehead.
Santini elbows Tino in the throat. Tino gags. He falls forward to his knee.
Vasco is fumbling for his gun.
Santini draws a knife, slides it easily through the back of Tino’s skull, slices across, and out again.
Santini grabs Fausto around the neck. He moves Fausto swiftly past the wall into the hallway on the left.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Bullets shred the wall uselessly. Vasco stops firing to get his bearings straight. It is only for a fraction of a second. It is long enough. Santini rounds the corner. He shoots once. Vasco drops.
Santini lowers his gun. He looks to Fausto.
Fausto is pressed back against the wall. He is unharmed. He is paralyzed with fear. His hands cover his ears. His eyes are wide. He is gasping for air.
Fausto is alive.
Santini closes his eyes.
Santini sits in a chair by the dining room table. His pistol rests against his leg.
The door down the hall clicks, slides across the carpeted floor. There is a shuffle of feet. Santini opens his eyes.
“Are you ready to go?”
There is no response. Santini tilts his head slightly. Fausto stands at the edge of the hallway. He stares at the twitching body of Tino “The Brick”. His face is pale. His eyes are dry but rimmed with red.
“Fausto. Look at me.”
Fausto blinks. He flickers his focus to Santini. For a single heartbeat the fear, the sorrow, the loneliness, the lost and forlorn feelings are gone from Fausto’s eyes.
“Are you ready?”
Together, Santini and Fausto leave the apartment. They get into the Cadillac downstairs. Santini drives. Fausto settles into the seat beside him.
Fausto rolls his face to the side. He stares up at Santini. Santini’s heart crashes erratic against his ribcage. Briefly, Santini brushes his hand along Fausto’s cheek. Fausto turns his face way, stares out at the unfolding landscape.
Santini is defined.