Joe Bananas died in prison. Natural causes. Nothing in prison is natural.
He was doing six to ten, manslaughter, involuntary. The consigliore said it’d be knocked down to three with good behavior.
Joe took the rap for C. He was a good soldier. The cops wanted him to sing. He never opened his mouth. C. was the boss. He ran the game. It was supposed to be friendly. It ain’t friendly when a guy gets stabbed.
The smell of the salamis, capicola, and prosciutto hanging low from the ceiling of Stefano’s was distracting, but that’s where they played. I was never part of the game, but the guys let me watch.
Bobby D. raised with nothing showing. Joe called. C. called. Augie the Kraut folded and so did Vince. Freddy the Chooch was a jumpy kinda guy. He got antsy when the bet came to him. He did that drumming thing with his fingers on the green felt. It was annoying. His eyes darted back and forth across the table. He musta had something, maybe a high pair, possibly a flush. C. told him shit or get off the pot. He continued with the fingers and the drumming. It bothered C. He told him to stop. Freddy kept it up.
C. told people to stop once. His knife went through Chooch’s left hand and nailed it to the table. C. was that kinda guy.
Freddy still couldn’t make up his mind. He was distracted with the knife sorta wobbling and all, and with Bobby D.’s naked bet. He fingered the bills from the huge stack in front of him, one at a time, with his right hand, like he was thinkin’. Twenty-five bucks. All singles. Freddy tossed in the bills. “Call.”
“You call with singles?” Bobby stared at the knife.
Freddy glanced at his hand, then back at Bobby D. “Call.” He tapped the table with his good hand. He musta felt lucky.
Bobby D. smiled, showing stained yellow teeth. None of his guys was a dentist, and if he didn’t have a guy, he didn’t go to nobody.
Bobby D. studied the table like a priest sizing up his parish, then raised.
Freddy went pale. Ignoring the knife. “Another twenty? You got nothing showing.”
Bobby D. shoved his hand into the pretzel bowl next to a smoldering ashtray. “Peanut butter inside. Salty, sweet, quite the treat.” He crunched down with them ugly teeth, then looked at Freddy. “In or out?”
“Balls.” Freddy shook his head adjusting his bloody hand.
“In.” Joe called.
“In.” C. tossed in a crisp clean twenty.
Just the four of them left.
Always the altar boy, Joe tried to help the Chooch. C. stopped him. He didn’t like people tryin’ to help. Said it went against what God wanted. “He helps them who helps themselves.” And it was C.’s game. So Freddy was on his own. He wriggled his arm with the stuck hand oozing blood onto the table. His right hand trying to separate more of the bills to call Bobby D.’s naked raise. He tossed in, the bills flyin all over, “There, now what the fuck you got?”
C. slapped the Chooch hard across the face. “Watch the mouth. This is a gentleman’s game. We got etiquette.”
Freddy rubbed his face with his good hand. He looked like a guy who’d just lost his best friend. He stared at a salami like it would give him an answer. He moved to give the knife a try.
C. stopped him. “That’s a distraction.”
“C!” Freddy’s lips quivered. “My hand!” He moaned softly.
C. slapped him again. He pointed at his hand. “The game.” Then pointed to the pot. “You’re In?” Then at the knife, “Or you’re out?”
By now things were going south. The Chooch’s face was pale. He was having a hard time with the knife and the bet and all. Just then he reached for his pocket where he kept his piece. He hadn’t gotten the pat before the game. Nobody thought to. He was a regular. C. yanked his knife from the Chooch’s hand and buried it in his throat before he could pull his piece. The blade made a little popping noise as it punctured the skin. The Chooch’s eyes bulged. He gurgled quietly. He bled out fast. Didn’t take long at all. A fucking mess.
Vince gave him a pat after he crumpled. He looked up at C. “Nothin’, no piece. He’s clean.”
C. shrugged, “He made a move.”
“Looked like it to me boss.” Vince knew what to say. Nobody argued with C.
So C. reached in his pocket, pulled out a .38, put on his gloves, rubbed the gun and the knife clean, then planted the piece in Chooch’s palm, firm like, fingers wrapped around the trigger, and did the same with the blade. And that was it.
C. had a sheet two three pages single spaced. Vince had done time so goin’ back wasn’t gonna happen. Bobby would flip under pressure. The Kraut was a weasel. But Joe was clean. So it would be him.
They needed a story. C. was in charge of stories.
The way they told it to the heat when they came on the scene was that Joe stuck him in the throat after Freddy went for his gun. It was a friendly game. A gentleman’s game and he went off. Joe saved them all cause the Chooch was gonna take 'em out. And everybody knew that the Chooch was jumpy. The thing with the hand was tricky. They explained it away by sayin’ the Chooch did it to himself in the heat of the game when Bobby D. raised with nothing showin’.
Cops put Joe under the light. They didn’t buy it one bit. But Joe was good, real good. Didn’t even need a rep by his side. Never blinked. Gave ‘em nothing other than the story. Just the way C. laid it out.
Joe was a rock, a stone, on the stand. Nothing, not a thing. The state didn’t push too hard. A wise guy in a box, off the street, and another doin’ time for the deed. No big deal. They wanted somebody to take a hard rap, so Joe was the guy. And the prosecutors got a gold star. Everybody was happy.
Joe got six to ten. He’d do three with good behavior. Be out before his fifty-fifth birthday, by Christmas. That’s what the lawyer said.
Joe’s Christmas never came.
(to be continued…)