New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample chapter from Night of the Furies by J.M. Taylor

I’ve been on the road a half hour, and now I’m about to cross into Rhode Island. I just heard a radio report saying that Peter “Bricks” Mancini, reputed mob boss of Boston, has been killed, along with his wife. They’re already saying it was a hit by another crime family, either a local hit or from New York. Idiots. If they only knew how little it mattered to me whether Mancini had lived or died. And I couldn’t care less about the other families. I just wanted to kill that faithless old woman, and the world is better off without her.

The sound of the motor and wheels eating up the road drown out the radio. I turn it up, and the voices rattle in my brain. I hear only scattered words, like, “rose through the ranks from the slums of Boston,” and “ruthless killer,” and “You’re a ghost.” No, that’s her voice. I turn up the radio as far as it will go, roll down the windows until the wind whips off my old man hat and carries it into the darkness, but still I can hear her.

It won’t be for long, though. I should reach New York before dawn, and I can ditch this Delta and get another car, and then disappear. As long as I keep moving, as long as I keep putting distance between me and her, as long as I keep this wind howling in my ears, then I won’t have to listen to her.

“I never betrayed a soul,” she said.

Like hell.

“If I made your life hard, it was because he was never there to make it easy. I raised you alone.”

She has — had — no idea what the truth was. But I do. He told me.

How many times did he take me for long walks through the neighborhood, teaching me about life? He’d show me the tall houses where the rich bastards lived, and told me how they’d climbed up those high steps on the backs of people like him. Then, at the end of the next block, he’d point out a group of losers huddled around a trash can fire. “Don’t be those bums, Giorgio,” he’d tell me. “Do something with your life, and don’t let those rich bastards take it way from you.”

Once, he took me to see Jimmy Smiles, the guy that gave him start. By this time, the old man was long out of the racket, but his old friends came around every day to make sure he was doing all right. It was a summer day, when I was maybe six or seven. Jimmy sat in a kitchen chair on the sidewalk outside the barbershop where he’d held court for so long. He had a ripped, stained hat on top of his bald head, his smile more like a skeleton’s leer. They talked about the news on the street, and my father asked his opinion on some deal he was making. Jimmy mumbled a few words that I barely understood, but my father nodded like he was listening to the Oracle at Delphi in the stories my mother used to tell me. Then I saw my father slip a few bucks in Jimmy’s tattered shirt pocket, like he was still paying protection. Jimmy patted my head and kept mumbling, even as we walked away.

“What’d you think of that?” he asked me when were out of earshot of Jimmy.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” I said.

“I didn’t ask about that, numbskull. Do you really think I needed his help?”

I was confused, but tried not to show it. I figured there was something I should’ve gotten out of that visit, but for the life of me I couldn’t see it. Finally, Papa told me.

“See, guys like that, they never realize when their time’s up. Old Jimmy barely knows his name some days, but he remembers he used to be a big shot around here. And he was. I owe him half of what I got, and that means you owe him, too. So every few days, I stop by, shoot the breeze, and give his tribute money. Between me and a few other guys, we pay his rent and groceries. That’s what you do. That’s being a man.”

Did my mother ever teach me a thing like that? Like hell she did. Pay attention.