...was the boss of all o’ them even though, like them, he was just a Soldier.
“Frankie,” that one word and Frankie froze on top o’ me. “I see your choice of victim these days has gotten younger. Pretty soon you’ll be beating babies still in their Ma’s womb.” He finally got off me, panting. He stared at Freddie, then at his bloody knuckles and then at me. “Y’know that kid probably has a mother, who’s probably gonna ask questions,” his voice was low. To me at that time it sounded calm, but that was actually Freddie’s warning voice.
“I didn’t think—“ Freddie back handed Frankie so hard he fell onto the table, knocking the cards, chips and drinks all over me and the floor.
“Naw, you didn’t. So now I’m gonna have to clean up your mess.” He grabbed the back of Frankie’s collar and lifted him onto his feet. “Now you clean up this shit and get us some more drinks.”
I never expected a face like Frankie’s to look that way. It was a glare that could kill little animals. There was fear, sure, but also hate. And something else too, what I later came to learn was respect for power. Freddie had all the power and everyone knew it. I knew from that day on that I wanted to be just like him. No, I wanted to be better, I wanted power over even him.
Well those are big thoughts for a kid, it didn’t all come at once but I suppose that was the first step towards it. At the time though I suppose all I was thinkin’ ‘bout was how bad my busted nose, lip and eye felt and how much of a butt whoopin’ I’d get when I finally got home. Ma would be so pissed, she’d probably think I’d been fightin’ with a kid. Lyin’ there I was more afraid of my Ma than whatever these guys could bring my way.
It was Big Al that helped me up from the floor. He sat me down on a chair and left the room. None of them would look at me except Freddie who had his fingers on his chin thinkin’ real hard like. I must have sat there for ten minutes or so an’ Big Al came back with a first aid box. He picked out a little sheet of tissue and started poking my face with it. It hurt like hell an’ I kept trying to get away but man is he strong.
Finally somebody spoke, an’ of course it was Freddie.
“Tell me kid, took a lot o’ guts to punch my man Frankie. He coulda killed you y’know?” I guessed he wanted a response, but I barely knew what to say, that and the tissue smothering my face made it difficult to answer.
So I just said, “he was pissing me off.”
They all laughed at that. “Real good slug,” Giovanni leant over the table and patted my shoulder. I winced at the touch but that only made him laugh all the harder.
“You really do have balls,” Freddie looked at his watch and got up from leaning against the wall, taking Frankie’s seat. “Let’s make this quick, I wanna start my game tonight, not tomorrow,” he looked around to a table full of nodding head an’ cheers. “How would you like to join my little operation kid?”
“Really boss, this little runt—“ Frankie started, but Freddie shut him up with one look.
“You,don’t get a say.” Then he turned back to me. His face twitched. I learned early on that that face twitch is the closes Freddie will ever come to a smile.
Man did they take me by surprise.
“Er, what’ll I have to do?” was all I could think o’ askin’.
“Just keep doing what Big Al asks you to, you’ve done him a service kid. Only difference is,” he leant back on his chair and moved his hands across over the whole table, “you get to enjoy the fine fruits of your labour. So what do you say, kid?”
I didn’t quite understand what it would mean, but to be taken in by this group of scary looking adults and being one o’ them was like a dream, cause they were so cool, even if I did just get my face busted up. It was more than that though, I felt like there was only one option. I could guess, even then, that Freddie was a man that didn’t take too kindly to a rejected offer.
“Sure,” I smiled, he held out his hand to shake mine and everyone muttered some form of “welcome kid” to me.
It was the strangest feeling I ever got, being accepted.
That night I got to try two new things, poker an’ beer. I’d recently turned thirteen so I was in what they call the rebellious stage already. Heck I’d always been a little rebellious.
I didn’t have much money so Big Al gave me a little o’ his. His trust in me made me feel good. Anyways it turned out that I was actually good at something. Years of trying to hide things an’ lie to my parents had helped me hone the art of bluffin’ an’ lyin’. Big Al was so proud o’ me he clapped my back and made me chug a whole can. My head was spinnin’ so hard I thought I was at a carnival.
I was taken in by all of it. They even lit up cigars but they wouldn’t let me try those yet. I had to guess they were part of the gold membership and I was only silver. But all night, all I could think ‘bout was how damn cool these guys are, An’ just how lucky I was.