“Miss, mi– miss?…” ….
An ear perked, a young blonde man, streetwise and thiefwise, cast his gaze across the mostly-empty restaurant floor to the leather-wrapped booth on the far wall.
The crowds had clearly avoided Chuck’s Chophouse tonight, a restaurant of spartan appearance but excellent reputation lounging on the south side of Boston’s inner harbor. The south side - the rough side. The sun hung lazy along a sky emerging from the gloom of a day-long rainstorm, the fingers of a pink-orange sunset cresting through a shroud of gray cast long across iron piers, rusty warehouses and a section of slums stinking with crime and rot. Chuck’s fit right in - its exterior of unembellished steel sheets, cracked wooden logs and dirt-crusted windows giving it the look of any of a dozen different crumbling repositories situated along the industrial shores of a region slowly forgetting its past.
Nothing screamed that nearly as loud as the fat man with the jet-black hair and the five-thousand-dollar suit in the far booth, his gruff voice and the hacking, throaty coughs that followed far less suited for the south side of Boston, and far more like something one would find milling about the streets of New York. The accent, the manner, and the unmistakable Italian screamed obnoxious out-of-towner, in with the right sort of people, the sort of people who fed his ego; the sort of ego that led this portly, mottle-skinned man bully waitresses with only a few days on the job.
Braden sat at a table just as spartan as the rest of the joint, glowering at the New Yorker, the only dim face at a table of drunken, raucous hoods. His blood-brothers since first grade, Bray knew these guys inside and out - Mouse, the redhead at the end, chortling quietly and anxiously, built like a skeleton wearing a man-suit, with big, round green eyes and uneven, bright white teeth, always borne in a sheepish grin. Tommy; the biggest, whiniest pussy you’d ever meet; couldn’t take even the threat of a punch without breaking down into tears, and if he had to run two blocks the poor fucker’d be huffing his lungs out, but he had the money, the mind and this magical something that helped me find damn near any tool, odd, end, or contact anywhere in town. Ripper - pretty ominously named, sure, but it wasn’t that he’d rip you so much as he’d rip you off. Cigarettes, fake checks, Italian suits - he’d steal his grandmother’s antique bicycle if there was a dime to be made on it.
And then there was Kenny. Braden’s best friend, worst adversary. The loudest, most irritating, and most deadly young guy in all South Boston. Affable to his ‘troops’, but with a temper explosive enough to make a nuclear weapon jealous. He had connections, he had ambitions, he had family. The next generation of southie Irish mob royalty, Kenny Donnelly’d take Braden to the top with him - whether Bray wanted it or not.
Bray watched, and watched. While the gang at the table downed another round, exchanging ribald tales with reddened cheeks and boisterous laughs, Bray waited, reclining in his chair, smoothing a plain-white shirt against his muscles, tattoos spilling out from beneath the short sleeves. He knew the girl waiting on the fat, well-dressed New Yorker - Beth Tierney, one of his old school friends, Shauna’s, younger sister. Seventeen and sweet and far too nervous to be serving drinks to loudmouthed men and well-mannered trophy-dates, poor pretty Beth stood there and winced as a flurry of insults cracked at her composure. Watching her face, Bray could almost see the tears scraping at the corners of the girl’s eyes.
“This ain’t a hard job here, sister,” the out-of-towner barked, gesturing to the room - mostly empty, with only a few couples drinking a boring night away in the corners of the room. “Serve the fuckin’ drink, take the fuckin’ order, look fuckin’ pretty and shake your little ass while you walk away,” he sneered, his date crossing her arms in displeasure, staring silent daggers at the young waitress with the long, fiery-red hair.
“Now where’s my screwdriver?” the suit-wearing man demanded.
“I-it’s– it’s right here, sir, fresh from the ba–” Beth offered the glass, snatched unceremoniously from her palm before she could finish speaking. With a deep swig of the mixture, the New Yorker - predictably - responded with disgust, his face curling at its edges. “The fuck’d you put in this? Rat piss?”
“I– sir, the bartender makes–”
“Well give my regards to the fuckin’ bartender,” the New Yorker interrupted, flicking his wrist the girl’s way, sending a shower of vodka and orange juice at poor Beth’s black apron, a splash of the drink striking her pale-freckled face. “Now make it again,” he demanded, slamming the glass onto the table and swiping it with an open palm, sending it careening off the edge, shattering to shards on the rough brick floor.
Braden’s eyes narrowed.
“Ah hahah –aaah, what’s wrong with you?” Focus shaken, an arm slung along his shoulders, Braden glanced over to his crew. Having had too many as he always did, Tommy pushed a brown-glass bottle into Bray’s face. “Have a drink, you’ll live longer.”
“Live longer? You dumbass,” Kenny howled, the others joining in.
“I’m good,” Bray spoke flatly, eyes spying towards the booth. A quiet fell across the table. The crew housed a curious dynamic - they feared Kenny, but more than that, they feared that one day Kenny and Bray would argue about something and kill one another. That fear was, of course, completely valid; the two had scuffled about dozens of meaningless disagreements over the years. Bray had put Kenny into the hospital for talking about Gracie’s ass once, and Kenny had once picked a fight with Bray over the color of the car the two had planned to steal for a joyride back in high school. The two of them met in a playground brawl, for fuck sake. Whenever tension radiated from one of the two, Mouse and Tommy and Ripper sat still and placid and nervous about who was going to blow up first.
“Got your eye on the asshole in the booth, don’t you,” Kenny murmured, his tone stony and serious. A wave of relief washed over the rest of the crew, thankful another scuffle didn’t seem inevitable. Bray nodded slowly in response, eyes still locked on the fat man across the restaurant.
“Italian. Connected,” Tommy breathed an ominous whisper. “Cara family, one of their bigshots. Name’s No-Bones Bruno,” he continued, playing up the drama of his little tale, enjoying his inebriation a bit too much.
“Wh-what the hell’s h-he doing here?” Mouse chittered out.
“Pretty far from home,” Kenny growled. Bray could already hear ‘Deadly’ Kenny Donnelly cracking his knuckles and sharpening the knives.
“Flexing muscle, probably,” Ripper added, twisting his head to glare at the New Yorker.
“Big power struggle just ended for the Cara family,” Tommy explained in a whisper, guzzling another deep-swallow of beer before sighing contentedly and continuing. “My guess is, No-Bones over there sided with the crew that came out on top. Thinks he’s the king of the fucking world, now.”
“So he celebrates by tossing liquor at young waitresses,” Bray scowled.
“Ain’t that Shauna’s sister?” Mouse asked, twitching his nose; his face was always alive with little flicks, twitches and perks of his expression, more or less like his namesake.
“Yeah, Beth,” Kenny boomed, ready for a fight. Bray gazed down the table at his blood-brother, offering a faint and disapproving shake of his head. Kenny glared, knowing just what that look meant.
“We oughta fuckin’ brain him,” Ripper hissed.
“Yeah, we oughta,” Kenny echoed, pedantry in his voice as his glare bore a hole through Bray.
“Wait in the alley ‘till he comes outside?” Mouse’s words slithered, half-nervous and half-hopeful, from his lips. “We could–”
“No,” Bray spoke resoundingly. Kenny sighed, irritation streaking across his eyes.
“Every fuckin’ time with you, Braden,” he exclaimed. To Kenny, the solution to pretty much every problem was simple - punch it, until things get better. Not surprisingly, Kenny had spent more than half his life in-and-out of correctional facilities.
Braden had a very different philosophy. He knew how to hit a man hard without lifting a fist in anger. And he knew how to leave bruises that’d last - financial bruises. Ego bruises. Reputation bruises.
“We’re thumping skulls tonight, Braden, and you’re either in or you’re out,” Kenny demanded.
“Bosses say we give a wide berth to any New York fuck that comes our way,” Braden advised. “We don’t want wars, Kenny.”
“Fuck you,” Kenny spoke simply. “We’re kicking his head in.”
“Shut up, Kenny,” Braden spoke just as simply back. That tension returned to the crew’s shoulders. “Tommy,” Bray said, “gotta be a lot of money in winning a mob war, am I right?”
“Plenty of money,” Tommy replied, drunken expression hectic.
“A date like that can’t be cheap,” Bray observed, eyeing the busty blonde giggling through a fake smile opposite the New Yorker. “I’m guessing he doesn’t go cheap on anything. That Brioni he’s wearing’s worth a few grand. He comes to Chuck’s and Chuck’s ain’t cheap. Y’know what else I bet he’s got that ain’t cheap?…”
Ripper grinned. Being thieves at heart, Ripper and Bray got along pretty damn well. Especially in moments like this.
“I bet I know, Bray.”
There it was. Beautiful.
Sitting under a lone street light, the sun finally falling past the horizon and leaving this section of town so thick in the shadows Braden preferred, he saw just what he had hoped - an expensive car. A really expensive car. Even more expensive than Bray had expected.
A brand-new Ferrari. A stunning piece of machinery, painted in an extraordinary coat of deep-red; rosso. All these exotics had ridiculous names for their paint colors. Just like an Italian to fork over money for this slick piece of Maranello-born engineering was way too nice for an asshole like that.
No-Bones Bruno hadn’t been completely dense. Having snuck out through the kitchen, the crew watched the New Yorker’s car from a steamy side-alley, spying two leather-jacket-wearing, slick-dressed, rotund mob goons standing like a pair of low-rent nightclub bouncers on either side of the sportscar.
“This is what we’re gonna do,” Bray whispered. “Ripper. Floor jack, cement blocks, lug wrench - back of my car,” he spoke quick, “and I’d better see nothing else missing from my trunk when I get back to my car.” Bray tossed the jingling ring of keys to his prized ‘68 Mustang to his compatriot, who nodded quickly and skittered through the back alley towards the rear parking lot.
“Mouse, Kenny, you’re with me,” he beckoned them with a quick flick of his fingers. With a roll of his eyes Kenny begrudgingly sauntered close, Mouse following hesitantly.
“Tommy,” Bray said, and he could already feel the protest building in Tommy’s face. Tommy was a lazy bastard. Thankfully, most of his job - finding things - could be done from home, because that’s just how Tommy liked it. Having to do things, especially things that required.. effort, and talking, and walking, and.. anything, that was too much.
“It’s simple, Tommy, I promise,” Bray reassured him, irritation trilling in his words.
“Man I hate this fuckin’ town,” Vince growled, with all the street-sense in his voice of a pampered rich mob kid who hadn’t even taken a punch.
“When’s the last time you were ever even in this town?” Lou responded, leaning back lazily against the door of No-Bones’s sleek, Italian-built speedster.
“Man, watch the fucking car,” Vince bellowed; Lou perked up, straightening his jacket, glancing around to see if anyone had picked up on his faux pas.
“It ain’t hurtin’ nothing, Jesus,” Lou scoffed.
“This baby’s got a delicate suspension,” Vince hissed, “and you ain’t gonna fuck it up. Now that Ciarelli and his guys are outta the way, ain’t nowhere for us to go but up, Lou - and after a few months, boss is gonna love me so much he’s gonna buy me one of these babies. So keep your shit together.”
“Yeah, I’m sure boss is all about handing out Lamborghinis,” Lou seemed skeptical.
“Ferrari, asshole,” Vince insisted. “It’s a Ferrari Italia, 458–”
“Help! HELP! S-somebody, help! We need– SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULANCE!”
That, at least, seemed to grab the two goons’ attention. Slowly.
“Help! Jesus, won’t anybody– HELP!”
From the alley running alongside Chuck’s emerged a shrieking young man, portly around the waist, his hair black, his cheeks reddened with the pleasant burn of liquor. Heads turning, expressions rather dim, eyebrows lofted, Vince and Lou watched him emerge, howling into the street.
“You, there, pl– please! Do you have cell phones?! A man’s having a heart attack?”
“Cell phones?” Vince asked, though whether the question was what is a cell phone? or something entirely different was anyone’s guess. “Do we have..”
“Yes, cell phones,” Tommy demanded, clearly a tad frustrated with the two slow-witted gentlemen.
“Heart attack?” Lou asked, piecing words together like a brain-trauma victim.
“A man’s having a heart attack, Jesus!” Tommy screeched angrily.
Vince murmured the words, and it slowly, slooowly dawned on him.
“Oh, fuck,” Vince’s slackjawed expression stumbled over the words.
“You think it’s the boss?..” Lou asked, concerned, though his concern felt less like genuine well-being concern and more like a ‘fuck, I’ve gotta do something?..’ sorta concern.
Tommy, meanwhile, had clearly had enough of trying to distract these two idiots.
“Do either of you know a– a Mr. Bruno? He needs help!”
“Mr. Bruno? Who’s…”
“Wait, isn’t that..” Vince and Lou appeared to be doing difficult calculus for a moment, before..
“Oh, fuck, uhh.. shit, call- call 911, and get your ass..” like a circus-act under the world’s cloudiest big top, Vince and Lou took off across the street, rushing through the doors to Chuck’s, Lou frantically jamming ‘9-1-1′ on his phone.
“Welcome to Chuck’s, how many in your party?”
“Where the fuck is the boss?!” Vince demanded of the young, bright-eyed hostess, who blinked twice at the two men charging through the door.
“Did… you want to speak with the manager, sir?..” she asked, confused.
“Not your boss, our fuckin’ boss,” Vince howled. “Where’s he at?!”
“I’m.. sorry, sir?..”
“The guy havin’ the fuckin’ heart attack!” Lou interrupted, pressing his phone to his ear. “Yeah, 911? What’s my emerge– get your asses over here! Where’s.. where’s here? Uh..”
“Someone’s.. I’m not.. sure, anyone’s having a heart attack, sirs,” the hostess raised a brow, almost amused.
“Where the fuck is this place?!” Lou demanded.
“Where’s.. this.. place?..” still perplexed, the hostess took a step back. “Wh–”
“THE ADDRESS, THEY WANT THE FUCKIN’ ADDRESS!”
“Who’s on the phone? Give it to me!” Vince roared, snatching it from Lou’s hand. “Yeah, is this 911? We need an ambulance to– well, no, he’s my partner, I’m trying to talk for– what? No, I’m not– THIS ISN’T A DOMESTIC ABUSE CALL, WE’VE GOT A FAT FUCK HAVIN’ A CORONARY HERE–”
“What the fuck’s goin’ on over here?” A loud, obnoxious New Yorker tone interrupted the circus of a scene, the portly, greasy-black-haired man’s arm looped with his fake-busted date’s, his expression dangerously angry. “Fat fuck havin’ a coronary?”
“OH, uhh, shit, boss– wait,” Vince blinked, throwing the phone across the room.
“Hey, asshole, that was my phone!” Lou protested.
“Boss, you’re not– you’re okay?..” Vince played innocent.
“You’re not havin’ a heart attack?” Lou echoed.
“Fat fuck havin’ a coronary, huh?” No-Bones Bruno’s lip twitched.
“Oh, uhhh– we were.. somebody out in the alley, they said that, y’know, and I was just– I was wondering, y’know, something..” Vince mumbled.
“What the fuck are you two doing in here anyway? Didn’t I tell you to watch the car?”
“…Oh. The car. The–”
Fear gripping the two boneheads suddenly they burst through the door with the same aplomb with which they had entered, hearts skipping a beat and eyes blinking in shock as they found No-Bones Bruno’s brand-new Ferrari Italia 458 - cement blocks stuffed under its side panels, holding it aloft just far enough for a gang of well-equipped thieves to wrench off the lug nuts and steal the expensive, gleaming silver wheels.
“…Shit,” Vince mouthed.
“What was that about.. boss buyin’ you a Lamborghini?” Lou asked, recalcitrant.
“You know, we’re not gonna get dick on the aftermarket for these things,” Ripper huffed up to Braden, breath taken from him as he hurriedly rolled the freshly-stolen Ferrari wheels along the filth-crusted back alley through which the gang had made their escape. Like a well-coordinated train of hoodlums four of them dashed, rolling tires along in front of them; at the rear Tommy heaved and puffed, dragging a floor jack along behind him.
“Can we.. stop now.. jeez,” Tommy gasped.
“We’re far enough,” Kenny said, rolling his tire to a slowing stop, his heavy breathing giving way to an indulgent shout of satisfaction. “Stupid fuck didn’t even see it coming!”
“Where are we gonna offload these things?” Ripper asked, leaning against a wall, letting tire come to rest at his feet. “Your average junkyard doesn’t exactly deal in many Ferraris most days.”
“I know,” Braden responded, wiping a few beads of sweat from his forehead. Bray knew ahead of time he wasn’t going to be making a killing off these wheels. One could count the number of Ferraris in Boston on one hand, and still have a few fingers to spare. Not even Ralphy’s place, the yard Bray usually fenced car parts to, would take these things, and Ralphy had about as many morals as a nun had boyfriends.
“So.. then, what’s the plan?” Kenny asked.
“We keep ‘em,” Bray shrugged. “Decorations. Souvenirs. Hang one up in your garage.”
“So this wasn’t about making a score,” Ripper’s expression shriveled up; he had certainly wanted to rip somebody off for a good penny, tonight.
“Some stuff is priceless,” Bray responded, hoisting his plunder up onto his shoulder.
“Nothing in this world’s priceless,” Kenny rebuffed him.
“That asshole went from trophy girlfriends and throwing drinks at poor Beth, to a sexless night spent hitching rides in taxis around Boston. That’s pretty priceless,” Bray disagreed. After a tense staring match, Kenny finally cracked a little smile.
“Yeah, you’re right, it is pretty priceless,” he laughed.