The clinking was driving me nuts. The sound of the silverware scratching at the plates felt like fingernails sliding down a chalkboard in my mind. People gulping their drinks making that “ah” sound like it’s the most refreshing drink they’ve ever had while others were making moaning noises like this was the most satisfying meal of their life.
No one was speaking and yet I could hear everything they were thinking. They knew what had happened today and were going to eat and drink as if they didn’t know which was making this harder. I stopped eating and looked around the table. Everyone was looking down at their plate focusing on their food except my father who was looking at me with an expression I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking which was weird because you always know where you stand with him by the look on his face. He hadn’t touched his plate or his drink.
The time had come. I had to face the music. I took a drink from my water glass feeling the water travel down my throat and into the pit of my stomach. I had no idea I was so dry as I felt the water soak into my body. It was now or never. I set the water glass back down and rested my hands on the edge of the table as if to prepare myself for a rapid exit. “I did it.” I closed my eyes and felt my body tense up waiting for the shoe to drop.
All at once, the sounds at the table stopped as if everyone froze at the same time. It felt good to say it once the words were out but waiting for the response felt like it was going to kill me. I opened my eyes and slowly looked up. All around the table, my aunts and uncles beaming with pride. My mother with stoic resolve that this was now the life of her only daughter. My father with his face unchanged as if he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him but something was different between us.
The table was still and silent waiting for my father to speak. It felt like an eternity until finally he spoke without so much as an inkling of emotion. “Good job, now, let’s eat.”
I executed my first hit today and all I got was “Good job, now, let’s eat”?! I could feel my blood get hot under my skin. I mean, I know this is a family dinner and there are rules regarding manners and respect but I just made a huge announcement and all I get is “good job”? I’ve been waiting my whole freakin’ life for this moment and that’s all I get?
Everyone resumed eating and drinking except now they’re conversing with each other about shopping or things on sale while others talk about the spread on this week’s game and how they’re going to have to go to Vegas to lay off some money. Business as usual. I look across the table and see my uncle smiling at me. He knows I want to blow and can’t. I know we don’t talk about hits at the dinner table but this is my first one and I’m the first female in the family to do it. I feel like that’s cause for some celebration, and here everyone is, acting like it’s no big deal.
Well, it’s a big freakin’ deal to me! I’d been hearing about these hits practically my whole life from my uncles telling my father the details from the day’s work and thinking someday I would grow up and be just like them. They made it sound so cool and nonchalant as if it was nothing even though murder is wrong in the eyes of the law. I mean, death is a part of life around here. It’s only business. I’ve been to lots of funerals and it always sucks when it’s someone you care for or even love; but, it’s also a necessary evil and someone’s gotta do it.
So, last week, hanging out in my father’s office as usual learning the intricacies of off shore betting, over and unders, the juice, why sometimes carrying over is better for business than collecting, and Uncle Tony comes in with bad news.
“Looks like Armando’s talking to the Feds just like we thought.” Uncle Tony says without giving much weight to it. “Tony Two Times says he saw Mando talking to a suit the other day and the next thing, he’s got a car he’s never seen before outside his shop. The guy eats and drinks, pretends to sleep, but never leaves his car unless he’s gotta take a piss. What do ya wanna do?”
“I like Armando but this, this ain’t good for business. A little skim off the top I can forgive but jeopardizing the family is a whole ‘nother thing all together.” My father hated this part of the business. Especially when it was someone he liked and they had family. “His wife and kids were just over here last week. What’s he thinkin’?”
“I don’t know Frank. I don’t know. But we can’t sit on this. Who knows how much he’s talked.”
“We’ll have to get rid of the guy in the car, too. Damn feds. Can’t keep their noses out of things.”
“How you want it to go down, the usual?”
“Naw, it’s gotta be different this time. He might suspect it and turn tail before we can hit it. We need someone he doesn’t know, you know, doesn’t suspect.”
I was like a fly on the wall listening to everything. No emotion came from them while they spoke of wacking someone who had been a part of the family since before I was born. Something clicked like a lightbulb went off inside my head and I don’t know what possessed me but the next thing I heard was my own voice saying was, “I can do it. He’d never suspect me.”
The way my father and Uncle Tony turned and looked at me at that moment I will never forget. It was like they had forgotten I was there and got caught with their hands full of hot cartons of cigarettes they were selling out of the back of stolen delivery truck.
“You?” my Uncle Tony said with a smirk. “Okay kid, enough funny business, we’re talking serious stuff here. Why don’t you run along and go do some homework or something.”
‘It’s summer vacation first of all and second, Uncle Tony, I can do it. I listen to you all talk about what you do, how you do it, and all that stuff every day.” I say matter of fact without any real understanding of what I’m talking about. “I’m the boss’ daughter. If I’m going to be the boss someday, I need to know what I’m doing.”
“Whoa… listen here, Frank. The boss’ daughter…gonna be boss. Look, no disrespect but this isn’t a job for a lady, not to mention one that is only 17 with her whole life ahead of her. There are other ways to be a boss and a good boss doesn’t get his hands dirty.”
We’re all three standing there looking at one another and not saying anything. My father gets this quizzical look on his face like he’s figuring out a puzzle. Then says, “She might have something here, Tony.”
“What? Frank. No. She’s never even handled a gun before. What if she chickens out and something happens to her? I don’t want that blood on my hands.”
“I can handle a gun. Richie’s been teaching me.” I realize I may have said too much at that very moment but the words are out. Sorry Richie.
“Richie’s been teachin’ you, huh? I wonder what else he’s been teachin’ you, the rat bastard. Tony, have a little talk with Richie. Explain to him the gun lessons and any other type of lessons are over for him.”
“Dad! It’s not like that!”
“Yeah, and it’s not going to be either. Uncle Tony’s not going hurt him too bad, just rough him up a little. A reminder of his place, that’s all. Now, for you, young lady, I think you might be on to something here. Yeah, I think it could work.”
“I got a bad feeling about this Frank. I don’t want anything happening to Sophia.”
“That’s why Tony, you’re going to be in charge of showing her what to do and how to do it. I’m gonna leave the details up to you but do me a favor. Don’t take long and don’t say anything to her mother until I get a chance to explain things myself. You got it?”
“Yeah, Frank. Come on, Sophia, we got work to do.”
I could tell my Uncle Tony did not want me doing this but once my father was on board, he had no choice but to follow orders. Over the next few days, Uncle Tony and I worked on the story I would give to Armando in order to get him away from the watchful eyes of the feds but still in the busyness of daily life so I could make a clean getaway. He outfitted me with a small paring knife and single shot .22 caliber pistol that was barely visible in the palm of my hand.
I was to lure Armando into the back office of his dry-cleaning business with some story about threatening to tell my father about his dalliance with his front desk girl Angela which I totally made up but was probably true. Once I got him back there, I was supposed to get him to sit in his chair or something so I could get behind him, put the small caliber pistol right up against the base of his neck, pull the trigger, and leave as if everything was normal.
Normally, this is all done outside on the sidewalk. You walk right up alongside your target, put the pistol up there, pull the trigger, and walk away before the person even hits the ground. By the time the bystanders figure it out, you’re long gone. I didn’t have the luxury of doing this out in the open since he was being watched so this was the next best scenario. Except, things didn’t go quite as planned.
I went to the dry cleaners to see Armando. He wasn’t there. Angela said he stepped out for a minute but would be right back. We’re about the same age and so we got to talking about stuff. You know, who we’re dating, who we’re sneaking around with, and the creeps we’re fightin’ off. Angela makes some comments about Armando and how she thinks he’s spying on her when she uses the bathroom. She can’t prove it she says and what would she do about it anyway. This freakin’ pisses me off and I think to myself, well Angela, you won’t have to worry about that anymore after tonight.
Armando finally shows up and we go into his office. Just like my plan, I go with my story, except now I know it’s true. I talk about laundry and then the little tidbit of information regarding Angela. I threaten Armando saying I’m gonna tell my father of his little sick peeping tom game and he starts to get sweaty. Then he says to me, “Look, it’s not that big of a deal. I can barely see anything anyway. You tell your father about Angela, I tell your father about Richie.”
Well, seeing how my father already knows about Richie, I got nothing to fear here so I say, “Go ahead. Tell him. I’m sure he’d like to know all about how you know about Richie. Considering you’re the one who pushed him on me in the first place.”
Just then, Angela comes in with the cash bag for the safe. I can’t do anything with her in here and I still haven’t been able to get Armando to sit down or figure out how to get behind him. Angela hands Armando the bag and says she leaving for the night and that she’ll lock the front door on her way out. And then, she looks right at me and says, “You’ll have to leave out the back door once you’re done.” As she saying this, Armando turns around and gets down on the floor to face his safe. I think she freakin’ knows what I’m about to do. She gives me a look then turns around and leaves without looking back.
I turn toward Armando and see him shuffling things around in his safe. He’s on all fours with his head half in and half out. I remember the paring knife in my left back pocket and I pull it out quickly and quietly and my eyes go immediately to the exposed skin on the back of his ankles. I swipe hard and fast against his skin and blood emerges along with the most bloodcurdling sound I have ever heard. His head falls forward kind of half out of the safe while his hands reach back toward his ankles in agony. He rolls on to his back and his eyes are wide with fear and pain.
I stood there frozen staring at him. I hadn’t meant to cut his ankles like that. It wasn’t part of the plan but instinct kicked in and I wanted him to pay for what Angela said he was doing and what he probable was actually doing that she couldn’t bring herself to say. Slimy prick. As I stood there watching him squirm, he said, “Wait til you see what they’re going to do to your father. It ain’t nothing compared to this.”
Those words brought me back to the job I was sent here to do. I pulled the .22 out of my purse, leaned in closer to Armando, stuck the pistol in his neck, and said, “This is what happens to rats and slimy pricks who can’t keep their hands off young girls you bastard. Rot in hell.” Then, I pulled the trigger and watched the life drain from his eyes as the blood drained from the hole in his neck.
I’ve never actually seen death up close and personal like that before. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal but it was. I felt some kind of rush like I was ridding the world, or at least my neighborhood, of the worst kind of human trash. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to find Angela and tell her not to worry anymore. I wanted to shout from the rooftops there was a new sheriff in town and people better watch their freakin’ step. Then, I wanted to throw up. The adrenaline was off the charts and I knew I had to get out of there and get back home. I took one last look at Armando laying there in his pool of blood and saw a small stack of cash just inside the safe. I reached over him, grabbed the money, said, “This is for Angela”, and headed out the back door. My first time with death, I mean, being responsible for someone actually dying, was intense. It was such a turn on, I had to find Richie. I hope my Uncle Tony hadn’t gotten to him yet because I had a lot of energy to burn and he was just the right guy to burn it with.
By the time I finished with Richie, got home, got cleaned up, and into my father’s office to give my father and Uncle Tony the news, dinner was ready and I was told we would discuss it later. It was too much to hold it in. Then, now at dinner, everything’s weird. Everyone’s acting weird. I don’t know what to say or do. I feel like the top of my head is going to pop off. Then, I see my Uncle Tony. He's still grinning at me, so I say, “What? What’s so funny?” all while trying not to sound disrespectful. He is my uncle after all.
“You. You’re funny.”
I know what he’s doing and it does calm me down a bit so I give in. “Funny how, like a clown? Like I amuse you?” I answer like Joe Pesci from Good Fellas. This is a regular bit at the dinner table when someone gets a little hot and needs to cool down.
“No, you’re a funny guy. You tell funny jokes.” He says in his best Ray Liotta and then one of my aunts pipes up, “You gonna let him talk to you like that?” and pretty soon the whole table starts laughing. My father joins in and says, “That’s one of my favorite scenes! I love that movie!”
And just like that, the tension is cut, my blood is back to its usual temperature, and everyone is eating and drinking as if everything was normal. My uncle is a pretty cool guy and knows exactly how to diffuse tense situations which is why he always sits next to my father. I still feel like I need something more of an acknowledgment considering the enormity of the job I carried out for the first time today but at least now I know my Uncle Tony and my father don’t see me like a little girl anymore.