* * * *
Tonight, Nick didn’t like Matt or Riley’s disposition, but that really wasn’t unusual.
“Again, where is Silverman?” Nick repeated, with his elbow propped up near the passenger window.
The question went ignored the first go around, and Nick was starting to get perturbed. Several knuckles braced his cheek while he stared unfocused through the window into the darkness of the night. Already feeling miles away, Nick was more than ready for the night to be over and done with.
Nick was glad that he hadn’t driven his vehicle because by the way things were playing out, and patience growing thin, Matt or Riley might have been bleeding on his leather seats. He was fed up and could easily end them both by tonight’s show of disrespect. He sat in the driver’s seat of the Lincoln, strictly here to babysit—orders from the King himself. He wasn’t expected to throw any weight around unless Matt or Riley started something, and then Nick would gladly comply with Cal’s wish.
Earlier, he had considered his last job as a simple ride in the park, but as he examined Matt’s mannerisms, he considered differently. But then again, Matt might have sensed Nick’s more inattentive focus with the night. Still there was the “why,” was Cal wanting him to watch over the two? It certainly didn’t help that Cal might have known about his objective all along. In addition, having to deal with Matt and Riley wasn’t easing any of that turmoil. Not that Nick couldn’t handle the two yahoos, but simply because Nick never cared for either of them, professionally or otherwise. During a job, tolerating one was bad enough, and now he was dealing with both. Nick wondered if there was anyone he actually liked or even trusted. Unconsciously, he set his forehead against the glass, and stared past the obscurity of the alleyway. Nope. No one.
Matt played dumb as if he hadn’t heard Nick’s question and finally answered, “Who?”
“The Congressman. The one you’re supposed to be talking with?” Nick stated irritated.
“He’ll be here,” Matt stated as he flashed a look at his watch. “We got a couple minutes yet.
Apparently, he comes here every Friday night.”
Nick glanced at the back door of the small diner. “Damn, the place will be closing in less than a half-hour. We’ve been waiting here for over an hour already.” Why a congressman chose The Minuet every Friday had Nick questioning. The diner was quaint, and from the outside it showed a bit of class. Other than that, it was appeared to be nothing special. In all likelihood, there wouldn’t be any racket inside, unlike the entire drive here listening to non-stop chatter from Matt and Riley. Nick already had enough entertainment for one day, beginning with the meeting at Cal’s home.
“I’m getting coffee,” Nick stated, opening the door and feeling his frustration mount while being curious to the reason that Silverman’s visited The Minuet.
“Nick wait—” Matt urgently snapped.
Nick leaned over, sticking his head back in the car. “What, Matt?” His patience was threads thin.
“Get me a cup…you know, two creams and five sugars.”
With a hand propped on the car door and another resting on edge of the roof, Nick looked at him in disbelief and finally spoke, “I’m not your bitch-boy, Matt. If you want coffee, get your own.” Nick slammed the door, breaking Matt’s curses and grumble of “asshole”.
Disgusted, Nick flashed his eyes back to the car and then adjusted his jacket lapel. A hand brushed his holster beneath the jacket. He secured a button before he rounded the corner toward the front of The Minuet. The street became more peaceful and eventually, Nick could take a deeper breath. His hands ran through hair as he inhaled deeply one more time and sensed the cool night air filling his lungs. He shook one wrist before his hands felt relaxed by his sides.
Nick looked up at the illuminating sign of white. The Minuet was sandwiched by two other abutting businesses, both apparently closed for the day. Deeply colored red bricks fronted most of the buildings in the area, built around the mid 30’s or 40’s and beautifully restored to their original appearance.
Matt parked outback in the alley to the street overflow and employee parking. They normally selected areas where they’d least likely be noticed. The manner was no different than vultures waiting after a kill.
Even before tonight, Nick was starting to get mixed signals, not only from Cal, but also from Matt and Riley. Nick reminded himself that Matt was here simply to talk with Silverman and nothing more. At least, that’s what Nick was told, and Matt would do all the talking. Nick shouldn’t have any problem tonight with just remaining a couple steps back and watching them. Nick started to enjoy laying low. Although Nick would certainly be interested in talking with someone who rose above the old neighborhood like Silverman, it wouldn’t happen tonight; his instructions were clear.
A bell jangled softly upon Nick’s entrance of The Minuet. Before he advanced any further inside he surveyed the area for Silverman, no Congressman.
A waitress greeted and offered him a table near the window. Nick declined, asking instead for another table near the back. He then followed her to a table and sat down facing the door. Nick was surprised by the small crowd still having dinner at this late hour. There were twenty or so tables, all covered in white linen cloths and centered with fresh flowers of white and lavender arrangements. Marilyn had loved flowers. Nick recalled his decision years back to quit work for the Serranto family to begin his new life with her. He applied for twenty-plus businesses, all acquainted, and untrusting of the Serranto name. He had been screwed then just as he was now, but ten years ago and clear across the United States, one company was willing to give him a shot and new outlet on life.
Marilyn always kept a fresh arrangement, usually white roses, on the kitchen table. When she died the month-old roses sat there wilted and decaying. Nick remembered it as if it was yesterday when Frankie came through his front door. Cal likely sent the only man capable enough to get him redirected and back to work.
Frankie pinched his nose against the rancid smell. “Dammit, Nicky, what is that stench?” Frankie exclaimed, before Nick twisted his head from the focus of his near empty glass. He clumsily poured more and lifted his glass, tipping it in the direction of Frankie. Nick had drunkenly muttered, “Death, Frankie…fuckin’ death.”
Frankie ignored him and began to search for the cause. He picked up the vase containing the last evidence of Marilyn ever existing. Frankie averted his head as he dumped the sour water into the sink, and the flowers and vase were all tossed into the trashcan. Frankie tied the bag up and took it into the garage. The door slammed. Before Nick could take another drink from his glass, it was ripped from his hand along with the bottle of Beam near his arm. Frankie threw them both into the sink where the glass smashed. Nick’s drunkenness merely kept him in a stupor until Frankie leaned with hands braced on the table and looked at Nick. Nick slowly looked up and finally met Frankie’s eyes. Nick fought to hold back his tears because he knew they wouldn’t do any good. Frankie reached out and slapped his jaw. Nick’s face tempered, but he remained stoic. Without any sentimental bullshit, Frankie ordered Nick to “Get the fuck up and go get dressed; we’ve got work to do.”
Nick glimpsed up from the steam rising from his coffee cup. He looked around checking the café for Silverman and realized he should be more attentive on tonight’s task.
He knew Randy well. Randy had been one of the richer kids in the neighborhood, if there was such a thing back then. Whatever money Randy did have attracted others to get rich quick, and one way was to take it from Randy. When they were teenagers, Nick recalled saving Randy’s ass on more than a couple of occasions. He wasn’t a bad guy. He was just a pretty boy who didn’t want his face to get messed up. So for a few bucks, Nick obliged him with protection. Nick didn’t mind hanging around Randy. The guy actually taught him a bit of class and with it, some self-respect.
* * * *
Cal Serranto leaned back against the edge of the hot tub. His hands gripped the top edge, sensing the bubbling, balmy stream from a hot jet.
Frankie stepped in behind him, feeling the heat a little less tolerable on his aged, thinner skin. He grimaced as he slowly eased into the bubbly water.
The back patio was quiet. Cal’s kids were asleep and his wife could be seen through the immense glass windows that ran the full length on the back veranda. With his arms outstretched and more relaxed along the edges, Cal gazed into the kitchen area and directly at his wife.
Frankie finally settled in and lowered down within the heat of swirling water.
Cal’s eyes followed his wife moving through the kitchen. His mouth twisted and he let out a light huff. “You think Nicky ever took my wife?”
“Cal?” Frankie answered in disbelief in what he was implying. “You aren’t suggesting what I think you are?”
“Yeah, I am, Frankie. You think Nicky ever fucked my wife?”
“Damn, Cal,” Frankie cracked. Frankie seriously doubted Nick to be that man unless Nick was so slick that Frankie hadn’t seen it either. He always suspected that Nicky might have realized that he’d been doing the same with his mother. When they passed each other in the hallway all those years ago, it made Frankie believe otherwise when Nicky’s aired an indifferent expression that Frankie couldn’t even read. Hell, Nicky wasn’t but ten at the time, and what did a kid even know at that age? Frankie jerked his attention back to Cal’s words.
“I’ve seen how she looks at him,” Cal stated, his eyes still monitoring his wife’s movements.
“Cal, Nicky just happens to be appealing and charismatic to the women, that’s all.”
“Yeah, that’s what worries me.” Cal replied somewhat lightened by Frankie’s viewpoint.
“Cal, no woman would get mixed up with his kind,” Frankie reassured.
Cal’s finger shot up in his direction. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean Frankie? Serranto’s not good enough?”
Frankie flagged a hand out in front of him. “Cal, I wasn’t saying anything against a Serranto… I was like a brother to your father. I would never say anything against the Serranto Family…. Christ, and your mother… God rest her soul. Why would I?”
“Then, what-the-hell you getting at, Frankie?”
“What Nicky is, Cal….he’s a thug. If you want a more technical term, a hit man, a mercenary,” Frankie stated with a sharp inhale. Frankie knew of that same solitary and unaccepted life. He, too, had lived it.
Cal sneered. “You’re right, Frankie. Nicky’s a wasted life,” Cal casually said.
“What do you mean, Cal? Nicky’s your brother. You shouldn’t speak about family that way,” Frankie said, very concerned in Cal’s sudden attitude change toward his own brother.
“Nicky isn’t family, Frankie. Not anymore,” he blurted, choking back a swallow.
“What?” Frankie uttered in surprise.
“He’s betrayed me, Frankie.”
“Nicky would never betray family, Cal.”
An open hand abruptly slammed down on the fiberglass edge, and Cal’s head instantly cocked. “Nicky Serranto has! Are you going against my word?”
Frankie didn’t understand. “No Cal, but you need evidence for such an accusation, not just hearsay from asshole employees like Matt and that idiot Riley,” he explained, trying to hide his concern.
“Do you think I’m so fuckin’ stupid that I would just listen to rumors when it concerns my brother? We understand each other; we have for a long time.”
“No, Cal. I know you’re far from that. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you were. Just tell me so I can understand.”
“Frankie, a couple of days ago Nicky wanted out.”
“Out of what?” Frankie asked.
“Okay, he wanted out. What did you two discuss?”
“There wasn’t anything to discuss, Frankie.”
Frankie remained silent as he gazed at the bubbles, not really seeing them rise from beneath the water. “That doesn’t mean he’s betrayed you, Cal.”
Cal fixed his eyes into Frankie’s. “Oh yeah, it does since Nicky has been working with the cops—with the fuckin’ cops.”
Frankie couldn’t find the words, and now, his aged body felt decades older as he slowly shook his head in disbelief.