Constance and the Variables
I picked up the phone after one ring. “What can I do you for?”
“Hey, Randy. It’s Kyle. The old man wants you to make an appearance before he takes off for Mexico. He suggested 8, so I figured we head over at 7:30. That good with you?”
“Sure, whatever, man. It’s Friday night, though. It’s not like I have a life, or anything.” I was just blowing smoke. I’d known what I was getting into when I signed up for this gig. No one was kidding anyone. If the old man wanted me to sit on the roof, and cackle like a chicken, I would be getting into my chicken suit. When it comes to having a life, mine was still missing in action, as it was with most of the guys who worked for Kevin O’Brien.
Known for his expertise in imports and exports, O’Brien was also known for employing men, who put their needs second to those of O’Brien. He liked that, and if it seemed as though an individual did not go along with that mindset, said individual was asked to seek employment elsewhere. But it didn’t come down like that, because if you were here, it was because you had inquired about the pay, the hours and the work. After finding out what the pay was, the hours became a moot point, because they already knew what the work was.
Now I was going to earn that pay. I was standing in front of the old man’s office door, at one minute to eight, with Kyle along for the ride, just pausing long enough for the chimes to start tinkling in the lobby, before tapping lightly on the door. It was opened immediately by Bruno, a man often found in the same venue as the old man, himself.
“Come in and have a seat. Bruno, shots for the gentlemen. Jameson OK?”
It was sort of an in-house joke. The old man always asked, and no one ever said no. The old man got right to the point. “I have a problem, but you’re going to take care of my problem, Randy. Now, I’ve heard that you are the best, and that you have a lot of what we used to call moxie. You’re going to need it for this next job. You up for a challenge?” The old man’s face was hard and expressionless. You’re going to need all of your tools.”
I looked at him evenly and said, “Bring it on.”
“OK, that’s what I like to hear, cause you got you a tough job ahead, working with the kid. I need a tough hombre, because what we’re dealing with, is a commodity known to stiff the best of them, and the hell with the rest of them. Yeah, we’re talking about Rodney.”
And then it all made sense, the subterfuge, the innuendo, the skirting around of the big issue. I was about to be blindsided by a force that had brought better men to their knees than I. Yes, I was being ordered to help his thirteen-year-old son complete all of the intricacies of a science fair project. Of all the daunting tasks that present themselves in the life of a busy crime boss, dealing with his middle school aged kid, was the one that most frequently stymied Kevin O’Brien.
He’d been told in no uncertain terms, by Rodney’s mother, that if this kid was ever going to actually make it through middle school, he would need to complete a science project. Hence the presence of yours truly. Now as I waited further directions, the old man signaled Bruno, and the hulking figure disappeared and returned a moment later with all of the necessary paperwork, including a list of possible suggestions, a booklet detailing the intricacies of all procedures, and a selection of foam board. This last was the latest in aesthetically pleasing formats, for science fair projects, and Rodney’s mother was certainly going to expect the best.
I was tap-dancing my way through some treacherous terrain, just now, scrambling desperately, to determine the extant of this entrapment. The old man kept glancing at his watch, and I could feel the noose tighten.
“So, Mr. O, what you’re saying is I gotta make the kid do his homework? I just wanna get this straight.” I was glancing through the booklet describing variables and constants. “What’s constants?”
“Homewoik? Dis ain’t homewoik. Dint you never have to do no science project? It’s like turning the screws to your head, dat’s what it is. Who’s Constance? Never mind, I got a plane to catch. I don’t want no confusion here. You take any steps needed, to get the kid to do his school work. Bribe him, connive him, use a gun-whatever it takes. Whatever. You get this thing squared away, you’re a made man. You don’t? You’re a marked man.”
To Bruno. “Let’s get out of here, before I lose sight of what’s important here, and it ain’t the science project.” He glanced meaningfully one last time at me, and swept imperiously out of the room, leaving me with an impending sense of doom. “What have I gotten myself into?”
The next morning I presented myself at the main house, and was admitted by none other than Shirley, Rodney’s mother. When I explained why I was there, Shirley stepped back and appraised me.
“Well, I hope you know what you’re getting into,” she said. “Rodney’s not up yet, but it’s time he was. He’s not really a morning person, anyway. Shall we convene to the kitchen for a cup of coffee?”
“Well, he’s going to become one, if we’re going to get anywhere on this project. We only have weekends, or after school.”
Shirley asked, off-handedly, “Have you met Rodney?”
“No, but I guess this must be the lucky guy himself,” I said, as a sleepy-looking, bad-hair-day youth staggered into the kitchen. “Hey there, are you ready to conduct the experiment of your young scientific life?” I asked with a feigned excitement.
“What’s for breakfast?” Rodney added a contorted facial expression, to go along with one last prolonged yawn. “The only experiment I want to see performed this morning, is a plate of bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast, sitting in front of me in fifteen minutes.”
“How do you want your eggs, Honey?” Shirley was already keeping pace with the orders, leaving me to recognize that I was going to have to establish some ground rules first.
“Fine. Breakfast first, and then the science experiment. Maybe we can get a few things squared away, here, while you are waiting for your food. First of all, have you read the information, that your teacher provided for you?” I held up the booklet that explained the scientific process, and gave the parameters of the whole activity.
“No.” Rodney was fiddling with his “Droid.”
“OK, that’s first, then. Have you given any thought as to what kind of experiment you would like to conduct?”
“Yes, I would like to determine which kind of condom is best suited for sexual pleasure? I’d like to experiment with your girlfriend.” He stared owlishly at me.
I backhanded the little bastard a good one, and then realized that fantasizing wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Shirley, of course, had left the room, the second before he had made the crack, but she wasn’t back yet, so I said, casually, “You talk about my girlfriend like that again, and I’ll use this razor sharp utility knife to cut off your-Hi there, Shirley. Rod and I were just discussing the the apportionment of the foam board.”
“Oh, that’s marvelous! I could tell you were getting down to business, as I came back through the door. This is so exciting. Rodney, what are you going to do your experiment on?” She looked expectantly at her son.
“We’re going to evaluate the properties of latex, Mother, and the effect on the-”
“Actually, Mrs. O, we’re still in the planning stages. The young man has demonstrated that he is in need of sustenance. His questions are still not properly formed.” I glanced at Rodney, and he looked away.
I won’t bore you with all of the pedantic details. Suffice to say, the whole thing came off as smoothly as a fixed horse race, with Rodney even garnering a second place ribbon, for his scintillating project on the effects of different additives on the growth of fresh radishes. Nothing profound, mind you, but done to the letter of the instructions, and earning a ribbon to boot, at the science fair.
Needless to say, Shirley and Kevin were ecstatic, and even Rodney was persuaded to allow the ribbon to be affixed to his shirt, for a quick snapshot. I got a substantial bonus, and a guarantee that, like chicken pox, it was a one-time deal. Besides, the kid would be out of the eighth grade in only six weeks.
As I lounged around, not too long afterwards, Kyle was interested in the details. “OK, Dude, how did you do it? How did you get the kid to do his experiment? And radishes, of all things. What’s your secret?”
“No secret. Mr. O said to use any method I wanted. Remember? He even suggested that I use a gun.”
“Are you shittin’ me? You used a gun on the kid?”
“In a manner of speaking I did. I used my .357 as bait. For every successful step of the science project, he got time on the shooting range. All it cost me was the ammo. I had to restrain the kid from doing too good a job. As it was, he settled for second place. I settled for new pair of headphones, ones that were effective enough that I didn’t get a headache, from all that time on the range.