Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Man in Black by Morgan Brennan

So, I’m sat here, looking back at my life. Do I have regrets? No, I’d do it over again. Look, I was good at my job and that’s the bottom line. Some people told me I was very good. But it weren’t easy. If it were easy, more would have tried - cause the pay was real good. But the burden and the stress? Well, they’d take a toll on you. I’ve come— hold on one moment. ‘Hey, Marty, tell the chef that was one of the best steaks I ever had.’
‘Sure, Luca.’
Where was I? Oh yeah, I’ve come a long way. I was raised poor. A deprived kid from an in-and-out-of-work family in the baddest part of the Bronx. My father was this big guy who worked his heart out at the docks until they laid him off – automation they said. Might as well’ve killed him. My mom seemed to spend most of her life on her knees – scrubbing floors for the well-heeled of Manhattan – when she wasn’t praying. It was a hard life but we always paid our debts.
They still held the faith and took us to church regular as clockwork. My sister and me tried not to mess around while Father Keegan did his stuff. He could lay it down like a politician before polling day. “Be good Catholics or the hell-fires will take you.” Never thought I’d believe all that stuff.
Went to a school in Queens and tried to make something of myself. I was a big son-of-a-gun and the teachers assumed I was this dumb palooka from the wrong side of the tracks who’d amount to nutting. But I learned more than they figured – until I got suspended for telling the math teacher where he could shove his equations.
I left and drifted around doing odd jobs for Mr Chen, who owned a pawn shop. When I was old enough, I joined the army. They taught me a lot more than just the soldiering. I learned about reconnoitring, planning, discipline and organising. But I got booted out of there too when I told a Lieutenant General where he could stick his baton. I guess the discipline part never stuck.
And then came my lucky break. We all get one, don’t we? Everyone deserves a break in their life and I got mine. Wait a minute.
‘You want a drink, Luca?’
‘Yeah, why not. Gimmee a nice cool beer, Marty.
‘Hey, and in one of them tall glasses – that’s been shoved in ice first.’
‘Sure, Luca, I’ll get your favourite.’
OK, so where was I. Yeah, my lucky break. A nephew, Jamie, told me he had his new car stolen right in front of him by this gang of punks. They told him if he went to the cops, they’d torch his house. Can you believe it? I had to help, so I went to see these guys. They weren’t very welcoming but then I got to parley with their leader alone. He thought he was Mr Cool with his shades and homburg hat. In the end, he got what I was about. The next day, my nephew got his car back - and I had me a homburg.
‘Thanks, Marty.’
Word got around. Next thing I know I’m getting more jobs – only this time they were paying for my trouble. So I put my skills to use. Each task was like a project. It needed researching, planning, organising, and execution. My clients were demanding son-of-a-bitches. I only took one at a time. Their needs would often be unique with their own peculiar set of challenges and sometimes I’d have to find different methods. There was no room for mistakes. I had a reputation to uphold.
Let me tell you about my first assignment. It was up in Manhattan. This guy had run up a load of gambling debts and started to welch on the repayments. Some people, huh? So, yours truly was given the job. By then I had me a car. I drove to his address and parked right outside. I knocked on the door of this big house and a guy in a silk dressing gown answers. I take off my hat. I’m real polite.
“Hey, John Lowe, I’ve come to collect on the debt.”
He looks at me like I’m something the cat dragged in.
“What debt? I don’t owe you guys nuttin.”
I waved the betting tab at him. “Says here you owe a whole load, John. Twelve thousand buck’s load.”
“Get out of here, scram, I ain’t paying you diddly-squat.”
You can see my politeness wasn’t reciprocated – so I had to take things in hand. I ushered him inside, into his big living room with the fish tank wall and Jackson Pollock paintings. We carried on the discussion and I left the place an hour later with everything settled.
After a few years, I’d built a business and enhanced my reputation. I was travelling all over the show and the money was rolling in. Hey, I even got my parents out of their slum and bought them a place in Long Beach. Just a minute.
‘One for the road, big man?’
‘No thanks, Marty. I guess I’ll sit on this one.’
‘You take care, Luca.’
I met this gal when I was working in Boston. She was a waitress. I’m a big tipper and it went from there. I told her I was a successful businessman. Angela was her name. She liked the fancy cars and exotic holidays. But in my job, the hours were a bitch. I’d disappear for days or nights – and didn’t get to call her. And when I returned it was a different ball game. After that, she hooked up with a regular nine-to-five guy and good luck to them.
My last job was where it all went wrong. I’d planned it as well as ever. It should’ve been another routine visit and I wasn’t expecting trouble. This one was in Virginia. I got there in the late afternoon after a long drive. Entry was no problem. I got the biggest bunch of skeleton keys. So I gets in the house. There’s no one at home, so I sit down, turn on the radio and wait. I take off my hat. You’ve got to show respect. An hour later I hear a key in the lock. She comes through to the living room where I’m in the chair, waiting for her. She drops her bag and falls to her knees. She knows what’s coming. I turn up the music. Rita Gonzales had skimmed the cash while working at the tables in Reno. Got off on a technicality, but the bosses wanted justice. That’s where I come in. So I stands up and puts my gun to her head. She looks up at me. There’s resignation written large on her tired face. Get it over with. It’s better when they don’t know it’s coming. I make sure they don’t feel a thing. They might be out walking their mutt or sucking on a Lucky Strike in their backyard, next there’s nutting. A tidy end. I got my reputation to think of. But this kneeling dame, this resignation with no desperation, it threw me. She reminded me of my own mother. I couldn’t do it no more. I dropped the damn gun and walked out.
The cops came for me the next morning. I confessed everything.
Look, I’d better finish my drink, there’s someone at my cell door. It’s Warden Kaminski and he’s coming in.
‘Hey, Luca, how you doing?’
‘Doing just fine, Warden.’
‘That’s good.’
‘Guess it’s time then?’
‘Yup, it’s time’
‘Can I wear my homburg?’
‘Sure you can.’
I put on the hat and held out my hands. The warden wrapped the cuffs around them.
‘How was the meal?’
‘The best, Warden, one of the best.’
‘Good, I have to shackle your feet.’
‘I understand.’
I shuffled out of the cell and he was waiting patiently. The man in bible black. Father Keegan had baptised me, and now he made the sign of the cross as I came in line. Warden Kaminski looked around at me.
‘OK, Luca, let’s do the walk.’
We did the walk. I hobbled past the emptied cells to the chamber.
‘Ain’t got no last words for you, Father.’
‘God save you from the hell-fires then, Luca, my son.’
I got on the gurney as quiet as a mouse. They took my hat, strapped me down and put the cannula tubes in me. I knew the others could see through the two-way glass – the sons, the daughters and widows of my fifty-one hits. That’s the least they deserved. I looked at Kaminski one last time.
‘Get it done, Warden.’
Hey look, I’m thirty years old. I’ve lived a life. I’ve loved life – but I took life. No regrets, eh?
Say a prayer to the man in black for me.

© Morgan Brennan

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