The room was dark as the six men sat at the table. The room smelled of old men and stale cigars, the single light hanging above the table swung gently after Marco had bumped it finding his seat. Marco scanned the table. From right to left he noted the other five men, making sure that they were ready to begin.

           Ishmael had his hair combed back, it shone with unnatural glean even in the dimness of the room. The scar under his left eye was almost invisible, but his square jaw was not. Next to him was Rammy, a fifty-year-old man whose hair began to leave him just before his sight. He looked older than Marco remembered, his wrinkles deeper and his eyes sunken even deeper into his skull. Then there was Fredo, a young man that reminded Marco a lot of himself. His dark brown hair long enough to cover his ears and his brown eyes almost looked black as the light swung over his face. Bradley leaned back in his chair, his thick arms folded over his bear-like chest. His breathing was heavy as his lungs and heart struggled to feed his nearly four-hundred-pound body. To his left, Marco saw James. James was the youngest in the group of six and had curly brown hair just like Marco had at his age. His green eyes were cold—also like Marco’s—and his thick neck held his head straight. Everyone had always said there was no doubt James was Marco’s son, and even in the near dark room, Marco agreed.

           When he was satisfied that everyone he had summoned was at the table, he took in a deep breath.

           “We need to make a decision.” His voice was low as a tightness formed in his chest. No matter how many times he had been at this table, at meetings just like this, he never hated them any less.

           “You know what we need to do,” Fredo’s lips curled in a sinister sneer as he leaned over the table.

           “Calm down, Son.” Bradley’s voice came out in almost a pant. “We have to talk about this before we make a decision as serious as this.”

           Fredo leaned back in his chair, his grim replaced by a scowl.

           “What do you know about it,” Marco asked James.

           James scanned the faces around the table just as his father had done. Then he pulled a cigarette form the breast of his jacket, lit it, and took a deep breath. He let the smoke dance around his face and cast shadows over the table before speaking. “I know that Romeo went to the police station three days ago and was in there for forty-five minutes. He has no open cases or warrants and had a good reason for being there.”

           “See!” Fredo’s voice was loud and echoed from the brick walls as if there were three of him in the room. “He betrayed us, and he needs to be dealt with.”

           “What proof do we have that Romeo flipped?” Marco’s breathing had calmed as he fell into his grove.

           “None,” Bradley scolded. “For all we know, he got called in and didn’t say nothing.”

           “Let me do what needs to be done!” Fredo grew more agitated with every spoken word.

           Marco leaned over the table, his eyes narrowing and his jaw tightening. “Look around this table, boy. This is it. This is the last of us. If we act prematurely on this, we kill a damn good man and we drop to six. We can’t damn well afford that.”

           Marco looked to Ishamel and Rammy for support, but he found nothing but blank faces and folded arms. They rarely spoke at these meetings. They had held seven of them in all, always ending the same. Down one more in the ranks and the two men saying nothing other than to cast their vote. Marco felt his cheeks grow warm with rage. Romeo was a good man with a family, they had been friends since grade school and Marco would be damned if they cast a careless vote just to end the meeting early.

           “You two,” he said. “Speak.”

           Rammy’s face lightened at the snap, clearly caught off guard. He thought for a moment, then spoke. “I know you two are buddies, but he has no business being in that station. If he had a good reason, like being called in for something, why not tell someone?”

           Ishamel nodded in agreement. “He knows the game. If it wasn’t nothing, he would have told someone. At least told you. He’s been eating alone for a while now.”

           Marco leaned back, his heart throbbing in pain. Why hadn’t Romeo come to him?

           James put a hand on his father’s shoulder, “I have known Romeo my whole life. He is my godfather for crying out loud! Nobody hates a rat more than Romeo, and I mean nobody! Why don’t we call him in and have him explain?”

           Bradley shook his head vehemently. “That ain’t how this works, Son. You know better.”

           Marco turned to his son and nodded.

           “I think we could make an exception,” Marco said. “He and I started this to feed our families and we brought you all in to help grow something immense. We owe him that.”

           “Look,” Fredo chimed in again. “I will for always be grateful for what you and Romeo did for me. For my family.” His tone changed and became softer. “But we don’t make exceptions in cases like this. Romeo has sat at this table enough, if he knew we were here, he would want us to do this the right way.”

           “So, should we vote?” James’ voice held a hint of a shake.

           “Vote,” Rammy said.

           “All in favor to clip Romeo, raise your hand.”

           Rammy, Ishamel, and Fredo all rose their hands. Marco’s heart fluttered.

           “All apposed.”

           He, James, and Bradley raised their hands. The room fell silent.

           Marco leaned back in his chair and let out a long sigh. He reached for the revolver that rested at his hip, held in only by his belt. He brought it to the table and spun the cylinder before popping it open. He dropped five of the six rounds onto the table, slammed the cylinder shut, and spun it twice more.

           “Been a long time since we’ve had this,” Ishamel said.

           “It is James’ and Fredo’s first tiebreaker. The rules are simple, Russian Roulette. When the piece gets to you, pull the trigger, aim at the far wall. If you have the round, your vote counts for two.”

           “Those ain’t the rules,” Bradley growled now.

           “It is tonight,” Marco snarled back. “We can’t afford to lose two.”

           Bradley nodded in agreement. Marco handed James the gun first.

           James tuned and aimlessly pulled the trigger in the direction of the wall his father had told them to shoot. Click.

           Bradley’s fat hands covered nearly the entire gun when he pulled the trigger. Click.

           Fredo smiled when the gun filled his hands. His eyes locked with Marco’s as his smile widened. Click. Disappointment and anger filled his eyes as he slammed the gun onto the table in front of Rammy. His wrinkled hand lifted the gun and shook, almost too weak to hold it. He used both index fingers to pull.


           Ishmael looked the shining silver pistol in front of him for a long time. For a moment, Marco hoped he would change his vote, but he wrapped his hand around the wooden grip and raised it. He continued to study the piece, the two scenarios of how his decision would play out rolled in his mind.

           “Pull the damn trigger!” Fredo’s voice cut the silence of the room violently. But Ishmael’s eyes remained on the gun. Then, with the barrel pointing at the ceiling in stead of the wall, he pulled the trigger.


           A calmness rushed Marco when the gun was placed in front of him. He lifted it. A smile sat wide on his face.

           “You know,” he said, realizing his friend would make it another day. “Trust and loyalty are paramount in our business.” His eyes fell to Fredo. “Tonight, you showed just how easy it is for you to turn your back on a brother. Agree?” Marco scanned the room as four of the men nodded in agreement.

           Fredo’s eyes widened and his tight jaw unclenched. His anger and frustration replaced with fear as the barrel of the gun rose to his chest.

           “All in favor?”

           Five arms slowly rose.



February 01, 2020 00:14

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