Natural Causes — Part II
Joe and Mary were married in '59. A good year. Joe was a Cub fan. He even had the blue satin jacket with the big C in front, real nice. But the Sox were in the series and that made Joe happy, too. It was good for the book, good for the city. They made a lot off the Sox. Chicago bet with its heart.
"Stunat," Joe said to his Mary, while counting his take. Everybody was happy.
The Dodgers beat 'em in six.
Like I said, Joe was an altar boy. Good guy. Never hurt nobody. He loved Mary more than his Cubbies. So much they didn’t have no kids. He told her it wouldn’t be right, given his line of work. Mary wanted them bad, but she loved her Joe, and she knew what was right.
He worked at the track in the cage. C and his boys ran the show. Low level job. Take the bets, keep your mouth shut, and stay behind the bars. Don’t ask no questions and don’t give nobody nothin’. He never stuck his hand in the jar. Not once. And he only gave guys a tip on a pony when it was part of a scam. He followed the rules. And C made ‘em all.
So when the thing with Freddy went down, Joe took the rap like he was told. A good soldier, bad ticker and all.
Mary wanted him to sing. The Feds would provide protection. Joe would have none of it. He never opened his mouth. The only thing he asked was Mary be taken care of.
"Without question." C promised.
After the service, with the incense and all the sad shit mumbled by the priest at St. Francis, C slid a fat envelope into Mary’s black wool coat. Two G’s cash, worn bills and a note. The dough she understood. Help with the finances. But the note made her curious. She removed it from the envelope and slid the dough back into her pocket. Careful like. She unfolded the message, stepping away from the padre who was starting to chirp about where the buffet was going to be.
Making sure no one was looking over her shoulder, she read the note. "Mary, I am sorry for your terrible loss. This is something to help, and there will be more. When you are ready, let me know. Clemente."
She looked up at Jesus nailed to the cross staring down at her. He gave her nothing. Just the thorns and the hands with the nails, and that sad look on his face. "Ready for what?"
C, off to the side trying to look holy and shit, stood under a station of the cross, studying her silently. He approached looking all solemn and took her hand. "When you are ready."
Mary shrugged, confused.
C jabbed his finger into the holy water, crossed himself, straightened his tie, and walked out of the church.
"Lunch?" The priest asked, still looking scared he might miss his meal.
Mary did not look at him. With pursed lips she folded the note and placed it in her pocket. She mouthed the words, "Natural causes," and glared as C disappeared from the vestibule looking like she wanted him to meet the same end as her beloved Joe.
Like C promised Joe, and intimated to Mary, the dough rolled in. Two G’s a month. C’d have a different guy give her the word, then deliver. Carmine, Vito, Cesare. She’d be shopping or at church, or the library. She’d turn a corner and there they were, whispering, "Tomorrow, three o’clock," just like that, they’d make the drop at the house, no phone call, no note. They’d knock, two times slow, then three times quick. She’d open the door, they’d hand her the envelope, bow, say nothing, and leave.
Sometimes the envelope was brown.
On the ninth month after Joe had died of natural causes, Mary was in St. Francis reciting her novena for the dead, quiet like, lips moving, nothing coming out, holding her rosary. A shadow crossed her sightline to Jesus. She looked up, lips still moving, thumbing the beads.
"God bless you."
C. Black suit. Crisp white shirt. Purple tie. Fedora in his hand.
"I miss my Joe." She stiffened, looking like she wanted to pull back her words, not wanting to show C her vulnerability.
"We all do." He placed his hat in the pew. He took her hand in his left, and blessed himself with his right. He sighed, "Are you ready now?"
"Ready?" She twisted her rosary.
"After a loss, a woman, how you say, is lonely. She needs a man. To take care. To be a companion."
Mary’s eyes narrowed, "I need no one. Thank you for asking." She forced a thin smile.
"Mary." He feigned compassion attempting to place her hand on his heart.
She pulled away. "No one." She turned to leave the church.
"You need the envelope." He held her hand preventing her from walking away. "Think about it."
She pulled her hand from his. She began to speak. She hesitated. "I will."
"Do not be foolish."
"You dishonor my Joe."
"I dishonor no one."