I’ve worked for Vito Palucci since I was ten and smart enough to pay Irving Glick to do my homework, so I could work after school. I did that because I could make a lot more money doing odd jobs for Vito, the grocer who ran the little Mom and Pop convenience store, down on 44th St, than it cost me to pay Irving.
Vito kept things running smoothly in our neighborhood; he handled the betting, he took care of the odd job here or there, which required persuasion, and he made certain that there was a semblance of peace and harmony within his community. If he had to lean on one of the denizens of the burg, to provide an overdue payment, he was more than happy to accommodate-for a percentage-of course.
Vito used to give me the kind of jobs that kept my hands from getting bruised. I was not a hammer; I was more of a cork screw. I had a way of extracting things from people, to which they were attached, primarily their money. I used my laptop, at first, and then, if that proved unsatisfactory, I used a little snub-nosed .38 caliber handgun. It was amazing how helpful it was to be able to conclude that we were getting nowhere with our business, and then to be able to just get down to the bare basics, by pulling out a gun. Victoria, my special turtle dumpling, thinks it makes me look dashing.
People get the idea real quick. They understand that there is no way out of any “request” that Vito would make, because they lived in the neighborhood, and unless they were willing to simply risk disappearing off of the face of the planet one day, they played ball. Vito had broken enough bats in the past, for people to think he would not go that route. And I was the scorekeeper. I didn’t have a program because I made it up as I went along.
If there was a difficulty, Vito would ask me to close his office door, while he gave me the sordid details. On this particular occasion, I had been expecting the summons. Rumor had it that Father Baldanacci had put the word out that he thought the parish could use a new ball field for the grammar school kids to play on. Now at St. Bonaventura’s the kids ranged from first through eighth grades, so the current field had seen a lot of use. The bleachers were sagging, and posed a hazard in this suit-happy climate, a disaster waiting to happen.
As Vito put it, the least “we” could do is provide the children of our community with an appropriate ball field. “After all, this is America!”
By we, Vito meant Guido Sarducci, a merchant who was relatively new to the subdivision, having opened an upscale coffee shop, the place where business types were likely to be seen, with their laptops plugged in, and their touch phones chirping. I was able to grasp the essentials as soon as we had gotten to this point in the conversation.
“So you would like that I arrange to have Mr. Sarducci write a check for a new ball field, with the construction to begin as soon as the logistics have been handled. I can deal with that. I see that Pauli is playing this Friday. How’s he handling the fast ball?” And thus it was designated. I knew what my task was and Vito had to think about it no more. All he had to think about was Pauli’s baseball game. Pauli would be pitching.
When I paid a visit to Mr. Sarducci, I brought Vinnie along with me, not because I needed his muscle, which is what Vinnie thought, but because I was trying to educate him. Vinnie had this bad habit of creating big messes, when a gentler hand could have produced the same results. Vito liked to keep a low profile, and that meant no calls to 911.
Now as we drove to Mr. Sarducci’s place of business, I went over the goal of the mission, to obtain a check for $5,000 dollars. Vinnie thought a direct approach was best, and had his knuckles in his coat pocket, but I told him I had a plan, and that he might want to sit back and see how it was done. Vinnie said that was fine, as long as he got to do any mop-up work that was required. I kept that under close consideration, but I was probably thinking more about him mopping the restrooms, when we got back to Vito’s, than about assisting me in my line of work.
Now we pulled up in front of the coffee shop and got out, with both of us going in, ordering our lattes, and taking a seat. After our coffees arrived, I drifted back over to the hostess, to ask where I might find Mr. Sarducci. She rang an intercom, asked a question, and nodded to the door located behind the counter, leading to the back of the shop. I went through the doorway, and into the office of Guido Sarducci, and immediately tacked on $2,500 for the good children of St. Bonaventura’s, based on the impressive mahogany desk, more resembling an aircraft carrier, than a desk.
“Mr Sarducci, I have come on behalf of Vito Palucci, and he would like to know if...” I emerged less than fifteen minutes later, check in hand, and signaled to Vinnie, that our work was done.
As we merged into traffic, he asked me if I had had any trouble. I just laughed and said no, that Mr Sarducci had paid off like a slot machine.
When Vinnie pressed me for details, I told him that Mr. Sarducci was delighted to pay $7,500, because originally I had asked him for $500,000, the price of a new gymnasium, and he had just about had a heart attack, When I adjusted the price down to $7,500, he was tickled pink to write the check.
“But what’s with the extra $2,500? We only needed five thousand,” went on Vinnie.
“Oh, that. I am going to use that to buy Victoria a new pair of earrings. After all, she is a good “child” of St Bonaventura’s too.”