...what happened when it got really late, I was so drunk. But in the mornin’ I nearly shit my pants wonderin’ what my Ma would say. An’ I did end up bein’ sick.
I’d slept on Big Al’s couch in the back room and it must have been the afternoon when he finally came down stairs. He took one look at me, grunted, and started makin’ breakfast. Boy did he know how to cook. He made the most delicious breakfast, home made cornetti with home made marmalade inside an’ a coffee, black as sin. He gave me a plate too and told me to eat with a nod before devouring his plate.
I couldn’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout my Ma back at home, she was probably gettin’ the rollin’ pin ready to beat me upside the head as a welcome.
“Got you down kid?” he grunted, half way through his food, “I went to a lot o’ trouble to make that an’ you just gonna leave it?”
“Sorry Al,” I hadn’t realise how sore my throat was. My tongue felt like it was moving through sandpaper. “Just, I forgot to go home,” Al just chuckled.
“I spoke to your Mother last night, scary woman, I told her you’d probably stay over to help me out,” he finished his cornetti an’ licked his lips to get at all the crumbs and stray bits o’ marmalade. “So don’t worry ‘bout it,” he smiled then as he stood up. “First thing you gotta know, we are family and we treat each other as such.” That sentence didn’t mean much to me, my idea of family so far had been beating after beating. When he saw the look on my face he got annoyed. “Don’t look so dumb, what I mean is, we have to have each other’s back. One thing you gotta learn when you’re with us is to do what your told, an’ keep your mouth shut no matter who asks you,” I must o’ still looked confused, “ah screw it, you’ll figure it out sooner or later.”
Thing about my Ma is she grew up in a strict Catholic family and so did my Pa. She never had much time for her daughters except to make them look pretty. It was me she devoted her time. See school gave me the fear of the principal, the principal gave me the fear of expulsion and my Pa, my Pa gave me the fear of his belt and Ma and Ma gave me the fear of God. The harder she pushed me, the more I wanted to get away.
School had always been unbearable. The bigger kids would beat me up for being a Christian Italian, too different from most the other kids. The teachers knew I didn’t wanna be there and gave me hell to make their own sad lives feel better.
Weeks passed however and the more I worked with the guys the more time I spent there. In those first few weeks I learned more with them than I ever learned in my several years in school. And they were useful things too, things that gave me a little extra money as well as a little more street smarts.
In a month’s time, I was on street corners with Big Al sellin’ what he liked to call his discount goods. We usually sold boxes of import cigars as well as different liquors and whatever he could get a discount on. I never knew at the time but discount was his chosen word for stolen. He sold them at lower prices than was available at stores but even so, every sale provided Big Al with 100% profit. My first day we’d earned well over 1k in the first couple hours. Al was countin’ the notes when the police came by lookin’ all mean an’ tough. I almost bolted right then and there when I felt a hand clamped on my shoulder, holdin’ me on the spot. For one insane second I thought this was some elaborate setup to get me in trouble, then I wondered how he’d known the cops were here and gotten to my side so fast. But all my fears disappeared the moment he started talkin’ and was replaced by a weird thrill I’d never felt before. For the first time ever I felt alive and it was wonderful.
“What’s the problem, officers?” he asked, he was smilin’ as he looked at their faces, workin’ ‘em out. The pair just looked at each other before taking a step closer to Big Al.
“Quite an operation you have here,” they were blockin’ any view that an outsider could have of what was goin’ on. “Looks like you have made yourself a lot of money.”
“It’s been a good mornin’, you two gents should share in my success,” he shook their hands. The officers hard masks cracked and they smiled.
“Keep up the good work citizen,” and they left, just like that.
I had no idea what just happened, afterwords Big Al told me that most patrols just wanted free handouts to help pay their bills, that if you paid them they’d leave you alone. That in the long run, a couple hundreds slipped into their hands with a civilised handshake was better than losing it all and going to prison.
And it didn’t stop there. When we were at the Butchers, I noticed that he got a lot of customers that were just like him, and even me. They were Italian American’s too and I couldn’t have been happier at that. But it was what they talked about that caught my attention. Things like, “I gave your friend his present, he won’t be around to thank you,” and “your package came, everything’s as you ordered.” Even in my innocence I could tell that things weren’t quite as they seemed. But every time, Big Al would smile, sometimes clasp their hands or kiss their cheeks, or he’d slip a note into their pockets. Then he might reply with some other code and either send them through to the back or send them on their way. There were other types of people that would come to the store who seemed to owe Big Al favours, Associates of his like lawyers and doctors and all types of professions.
All these people came and it made me wonder just what Big Al was.