Maurice “Mossy” Graves belches loudly, sitting back in his chair. The couple at the next table glances at Mossy disparagingly, then look away when they realize who he is.
Tall, with hard, vulpine features, snow white hair, and unblinking ice blue eyes, Mossy intimidate others through appearance, as well as his financial clout.
With a pockmarked, porky face and slits for eyes, big-bellied henchman Mario Grimaldi is uneducated and crude, but transparent and loyal. The third man at the table, handsome, dark-haired Simon “Skeeter” McSherry, is equally vicious when challenged.
“We been here so much we oughta buy the place,” Mario jokes.
Mossy’s snowy eyebrows shoot upward as a profitable idea is born. “You’re a genius, Mario.”
Noel Thomas, the easy-going owner of Thomas’s Promises Bistro, minces cautiously toward Mossy’s table.
“You really outdid yourself this time, Noel,” Mossy says. “Best lunch I’ve ever had.”
Mossy looks around the crowded elegant dining room, impressed with the restaurant’s expensive chandeliers, coffered ceiling, upholstered armchairs, and plush carpeting.
He stifles a cough. “Looks like you’re doing well, Noel.”
“Yes. Business has really picked up since the COVID restrictions were lifted.”
“You should think about expanding,” Mossy says, his icy stare preying on Noel.
“I’ve considered it. But Andy Fraser’s curio shop has been a fixture next door for twenty years, and he’s doing well. He’d never sell.”
Mossy’s voice deepens. “He’ll sell to me. You could knock his place down, expand the dining room and the kitchen, and add a patio.”
Thomas offers a constricted smile. “That’s a well-thought-out plan of action.”
“It’s the least I can do for my new partner.”
“Pa… Partner? But Mr. Graves, this is a difficult business, long hours, late nights, weekends.”
“Like we don’t work weekends,” Mario chuckles.
Stifling a cough, Mossy reaches in his imported Canli suit, producing his checkbook.
“I’m writing down a generous figure for fifty percent ownership of Thomas’s Promises.”
Mossy tears off the check, handing it to Thomas.
Thomas’ eyes bulge. “That’s a lot of money.”
“I treat my partners well.”
“I was about to say I really don’t want a partner…”
“But all them zeros changed your mind, right?” Mario comments.
“It’s a deal,” Thomas says. Stunned, he walks off, still staring at the check.
“This is a big investment boss,” Skeeter notes. “I hope you’re not makin’ a big mistake.”
“I don’t think so. And you’re going to see to it. You’re going to run the place for me.”
“You worked in a restaurant, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, in my pop’s place as a bus boy when I was fourteen,” Skeeter replies.
“I get the feelin’ you didn’t buy this place just because you like the Cannolis,” Mario says.
“You’re getting more perceptive by the day, Mario. We need a new business to funnel our cash through.”
Mossy covers his mouth as he coughs. “Now let’s go buy out Andy Fraser.”
A trio of town cars climbs the hill leading to Graves Funeral Home.
Mario opens the back door of the town car for Mossy. Triss Coffin, Mossy’s balding, lanky partner, meets him at the door wearing a servile smile.
“Good afternoon, Maurice. I wasn’t expecting…”
Coffin’s voice trails off as two of Mossy’s men pass by carrying a body bag.
“No one you have to worry about, Triss.”
Skeeter and another man carry a second body bag into the funeral home.
Coffin nearly faints. “I wouldn’t have sold you my place and agreed to stay on if I knew you were going to do this.”
“It’s a funeral home, ain’t it?” Mario interjects.
“Next you’ll be bringing body parts through the front door.”
“Nah, we feed ‘em to the dogs,” Mario replies.
“I didn’t agree to break the law, Maurice.”
Mossy turns to Mario, who slowly reaches into his jacket pocket.
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean it! Don’t kill me!”
Mario pulls out a thick envelope, handing it to Coffin.
Opening it, Coffin chortles to himself when he sees its full of thousand-dollar bills.
“You keep overreacting, and you’ll wind up being our next customer,” Mossy says, patting Coffin on his bald spot.
Mario leads Mossy into the examining room where the two body bags sit on cold steel tables.
“I wish, for once, that you’d partner up with somebody who’s got some guts,” Mario says.
“Guts and brains are hard to come by in one person. Case in point. I told Skeeter and those other numbskulls not to upset Triss, so what do they do? They parade the bags right past him. Open them.”
Mario unzips the first bag.
The bright shine of the gold bars inside the bag reflects off their broad smiles.
Mario unzips the second bag. It contains a bullet-riddled corpse.
“Levon Sweets,” Mossy says. “He tried to run out on his debt.”
“Shame,” Mario replies. “He was always a smooth talker. I liked his jokes.”
“Well, the amount of money he owed me was no laughing matter. Tell the boys to stash the gold bars in Egan Berry’s mausoleum, in the usual spot. They’ll need to dig Sweets a resting place. Put him in the unmarked section with the others.”
“You’re not worried the cops’ll figure out we’ve buried a fortune here?”
“They know about it. Every cop in town is on our payroll.”
Mossy climbs out of his town car, glancing at the flashing Basin Street Gardens sign. The first two bulbs are blown out, so the sign now reads, “SIN STREET GARDENS.”
Walking toward the entrance with Mario and Skeeter, Mossy senses he’s being watched. Turning, he focuses on the nearest street corner.
A suave, dark-haired man in a Gucci suit and a petite blonde with curly hair and a radiant smile wave at him.
“…Chips… Sparkle…,” he mutters.
Mario’s wide features come into view. “Somethin’ wrong, boss?”
When Mossy looks back at the corner the couple is gone.
Smirking confidently, Bunsen Wrangle, Darren “The Destroyer” Dash’s manager, says, “Never been more of a sure thing.”
Dash sits on the trainer’s table watching his trainer tape his hands.
Broad-shouldered, with scar tissue over his ravaged features, “The Destroyer,” a product of the Baltimore ghetto, is protective of his hard-earned championship title.
“Yep. The present and future champ,” Wrangle boasts, his smile showing the broad gap between his front teeth.
Mossy gives Wrangle a grim look. “Yeah, let’s talk about that.”
Dash holds up his forefinger. “It’s gonna be one and done for Donny Gunn.”
“It’ll be a one-round fight all right,” Mossy counters. “Only Gunn isn’t going to be the one who gets knocked out.”
Dash nearly vaults off the trainer’s table. “Are you nuts? After all I’ve been through, you want me to take a dive?”
“And I want it to look good. None of that Liston - Ali phantom punch stuff. It has to look real.”
“You’re freakin’ crazy! I’m the champ! Thirty-two knockouts, baby! Five successful title defenses! I haven’t lost a fight in seven years!”
“It’s time you did. You’re not turning a profit anymore,” Mossy replies. “How much are you getting for the fight?”
“Twelve mil,” Dash answers.
“That’s not much for a heavyweight championship fight. Mike Tyson made thirty million fighting Peter McNeeley.”
“That’s my point,” Mossy says. “You lose this fight, and you could make four times what you’re getting for the rematch, which, of course, you’ll win.”
“No dice. I grew up in a war zone. I was the only one who wasn’t in a box by nineteen. I worked hard for this.”
“Yes, you have,” Mossy replies. “But when was the last time you landed a T.V. endorsement, an acting job, or an interview? When was the last time you actually made money from being the champ?”
“Donny Gunn is a bum. Everyone’ll know it’s a fix.”
Mossy lets out a dry cough. “Gunn’s in the shape of his life. You can say you had the flu and couldn’t train as hard as you normally do. You’re a thirty-nine-to-one favorite. Do you know what kind of money someone who bets against you could make?”
“Someone like you,” Dash says indignantly.
“C’mon. Mossy, you gotta make it worth it for him,” Wrangle says.
Mario steps forward, dropping a briefcase on the trainer’s table.
Dash and Wrangle stare at the briefcase in anticipation. The only sound in the room is Mario clicking open the locks.
The briefcase is stuffed with money.
“Round one,” Mossy emphasizes.
“And if I don’t take a dive?”
Mario holds up his mangled hand. “Fightin’ with three fingers on one hand is tough. Trust me.”
Dash and Wrangle stare at the cash as the trio of men depart.
“Thirty-nine to one?” Dash asks.
“Then don’t just stand there gawkin’, Bunsen. Put this money on Gunn to win in the first round.”
Mario knocks on the door of Mossy’s office with his meaty hand.
“ ’The Destroyer’ sunk in one, just like you said he would.”
Mossy sips his glass of whiskey. “As long as it looked good.”
“Best acting job this year.”
Mossy pours a glass of whiskey for Mario.
“To money,” he says as they clink their glasses together.
“You remember Chips and Sparkle Horton?” Mossy asks.
“It was five years ago, but yeah,” Mario says. “That Chips was a great singer. Sparkle couldn’t hold a tune in a wheelbarrow, but she lived up to her name.”
“I saw them today,” Mossy admits, downing his glass. “They were standing on a corner outside of the Basin Street Garden.”
“You sure, boss?”
“You didn’t see them?”
“…I see ‘em every night in my sleep…,” Mario says softly.
“You’re sure they’re dead?”
“I was there, boss, with Dom DeMaio and Little John Estes. We broke into their house. We was in the kitchen when Chips came out holdin’ a piece, which was strange ‘cause he couldn’t shoot a gun. Me and Little John was face to face with him…”
Chips points his ancient pistol at Mario. Little John points his .44 magnum at Chips.
“I’m guessing Maurice sent you?”
“Sorry, Chips, but the boss don’t take kindly to bein’ robbed.”
“I needed the money, Mario. I had my reasons.”
Estes nicknamed Little John because of his 6’ 7” height, lets out a squeaky laugh. “Yeah, you had four hundred thousand reasons.”
“I would have paid Mossy back.”
“Every thief says that,” Little John counters.
“It was for my sister.”
Mario’s piggish eyes widen. “Janice? The one with cancer?”
“She died, didn’t she?” Little John asks. “That’s throwing good money after bad.”
“Shaddup, Johnny,” Mario says. “You should’a asked Mossy for the money, Chips.”
“Maurice is all about Maurice. He won’t invest in something if he can’t make a profit. Best you remember that, Mario.”
“This ain’t just about the four hundred thousand. Mossy figures if you stole from him once, then you been doin’ it all along.’
“I’m not an accountant.”
“No, but Christos Gruzik was,” Little John says. “He fell for your sob story and skimmed that four hundred thousand off the books from the casino for you. Too bad one of his assistants caught on. She got his job, and Christos got what you’re gonna get. Just one thing. You’re a lounge singer, not a gambler. How’d you end up with the nickname Chips?”
“I like potato chips, especially barbecue, and salt and vinegar.”
“They’re bad for your health, although I guess you’re not too worried about that right now.”
“And before you ask, Sparkle got her name from her smile.”
“My life is fulfilled,” Little John replies.
Mario’s fat features sag. “You should’a covered your tracks better, Chips.”
“I’ll remember that next time.”
“This is where I point out there won’t be a next time,” Little John says.
Sparkle enters the kitchen. “I heard the noise. What’s going on…”
Unnerved by her sudden presence, Little John shoots Sparkle before she can finish her question.
Chips fires, his bullet piercing Little John’s heart. He points his gun at Mario, who keeps his weapon by his side.
The two men stare at each other.
“We had some good times, didn’t we, Mario?”
“I met my Marie ‘cause of you. I thought she was outta my league, but you convinced me to ask her out. That’s why we named our kid after you.”
“Say hello to Marie for me.”
Dom DeMaio sneaks behind Chips, firing a bullet into the back of his head.
“Your son’s name is Edgar,” Mossy says.
“That’s Chips’ real name.”
“I didn’t know that. Sounds like you were close.”
“Could you have pulled the trigger if DeMaio wasn’t there?” Mossy asks.
“That’s why he was behind Chips, so I wouldn’t have to find out.”
“What did you do with them?”
“Chips, Sparkle, and Little John got a burial at sea. We weighed ‘em down with cinder blocks.”
“So, they’re really dead. I wonder what they want?”
“Why don’tcha ask ‘em?”
“You’re a genius, Mario.”
Mossy downs another glass of whiskey to quell his hacking cough. Bleary-eyed, he looks up from his desk.
Chips and Sparkle are sitting in front of him.
“How’d you two get in here?”
“Skeeter’s asleep in your car. Mario’s passed out on the couch,” Chips replies.
“They can’t see us anyway,” Sparkle adds.
“Oh, an individualized haunting. Why did it take five years for you to come back?”
“There’s a long waiting list for haunting guilty people,” Chips says.
“Is that what you’re here for, to make me feel guilty? Okay, maybe I acted hastily. Your sister was sick, she needed a lot of expensive care. But you should have come to me. I might have lent you the money.”
“That’s the worst apology I’ve ever heard,” Sparkle says.
“That’s because it isn’t an apology. You weren’t supposed to get it, Sparkle, just Chips.”
“There’s no Sparkle without Chips.”
“So, no apology, Maurice?” Chips asks.
“You stole from me.”
“You should know that what you say might affect your stature in the next world,” Chips says.
“Are talking about heaven? Hell? Bring it on,” Mossy says defiantly.
“Pretty flippant attitude for a man destined to dance on hot coals,” Chips replies.
“I’ve got plenty of time to change.”
“Are you sure of that?” Sparkle asks.
Mossy pours himself more whiskey. “Okay, you two. Get out so I can wake up.”
“This isn’t a dream, Maurice.”
“All right, it’s a nightmare then. Get out before I kill you… again.”
“But we have something else to talk about,” Sparkle says. “Something that’ll change your life.”
Mario rushes to the door.
“Who you yellin’ at, boss?”
“The radio. I was yelling at the radio.”
“It’s not on, boss.”
Mayor Jackson Gentry looks around the park before taking a seat next to Mossy.
A pigeon struts by, cooing loudly.
“I hope it’s not a stool pigeon,” Mayor Gentry says.
He picks up the rolled-up newspaper next to him.
“Page twenty-three,” Mossy whispers.
A check is stapled to the page.
“Consider that a campaign donation.”
“I can’t accept a personal check.”
“Put your glasses on, Mayor. It’s from Ratliff Construction, which has no direct connection to me.”
“This is in exchange for?”
“The hotel and office building we’re going to put up downtown.”
“But the Town Board turned you down.”
Mossy clears his throat. “There’s enough money there to make them reconsider.”
“I see. There are a lot of people in town in need of work.”
“This is a union job.”
“Can you see your way clear to hire locals to staff the hotel?”
“All right, Mayor.”
“What happens if I don’t get re-elected?”
“You will. By a landslide.”
Hi heart racing, Mayor Gentry quickly walks away.
Sitting in a car across the street, Mario and Skeeter continue to watch Mossy.
“He’s unprotected,” Skeeter notes.
“Relax. He’s only a few hundred feet away.”
“Should we go get him?”
“Give him a few seconds,” Mario answers. “His heads been spinnin’ lately. I think he could use a few minutes to himself.”
Chips and Sparkle sis down next to Mossy.
“We told you we had something else to discuss, something important,” Sparkle says.
“And I told you I’ve made peace with what happened to you. I’m not going to apologize for what happened. It was as much your fault as mine.”
Mario leans forward in his seat. “He’s talking to himself.”
“Maybe he’s doin’ a Vinnie the Chin.”
“Vincent ‘the Chin’ Gigante pretended to be crazy so the feds wouldn’t throw him in jail.”
“Did it work?”
“Your money has helped you bribe, buy, and intimidate your way to the top,” Chips says. “It must seem like you have it all.”
“Yeah, and all the problems that go with it,” Mossy responds. “I have a wife who makes my credit cards scream, a son who isn’t sure what sex he is, and a daughter who likes crack more than life itself. Yeah, I’ve got it all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you been coughing a lot lately? Feeling tired?”
“It’s just part of aging,” Mossy says.
“No, it’s cancer,” Chips replies. “You’ve got six months to live.”
Mossy jumps up from the bench.
“Six months, Maurice,” Chips says. “Buy your way out of that.”
The blood drains from Mossy’s already milk-white features.
Mossy backs away from Chips and Sparkle. “No! You’re lying!”
Mossy continues to back away until he’s in the street.
“What’s he doing?” Skeeter asks Mario.
“I dunno. We better get him.”
Mossy steps back. He never hears the blare of the Greyhound’s horn before the bus runs him down.
Sparkle turns to Chips. “Are you sure he’s going to die in six months?”
Chips shrugs. “You know, you’re right. It’s six years.”