“How old are you, kid?” Big John’s raspy voice dragged Sal away from his torment.
Little Sal cleared his throat and said, “Twenty-two, boss.” It was best to keep his comments short and direct. Whether Mario ordered him to transport Big John to the safe room or not, the old man didn’t want to go. The little power struggle going on between those two titans was something he didn’t want to be in the middle of.
“Twenty-two,” Big John nearly whispered. “You’re just a fucking baby aren’t you? How does a young kid like you end up pushing a guy like me around?”
“I don’t know, sir,” he replied. “It’s an honor. You’re a legend.”
“So I’ve heard,” the old man’s voice sounded like gravel being dragged across an old washboard. “That question you don’t know the answer to, I’m going to answer it for you. It’s respect, kid. I know who the fuck you are. You’re named for your grandfather, and his name is the reason you are where you are right now.”
Sal waited a few moments before responding. He didn’t want to interrupt the old man, and he wasn’t sure if he was finished. After a few steps, he finally said, “That’s right, sir. I was too young when he passed to really remember much about him.” Uneasiness slammed curiosity down and prevented him from saying any more.
“I knew him, you know. He was a stand-up guy, quick too, clever, never got pinched,” Sal could hear the smile that had crept onto Big John’s face as he reminisced. “You know what they called him?” Big John finally looked up at Sal.
Sal smiled down at the old man and replied, “Yeah, they called him Slippery Sal. I’ve heard lots of stories about him. It would have been nice to meet him when I was old enough to understand.”
“That’s right,” Big John chuckled as he dropped his head back down, “Slippery Sal Barone. They called him that because the pigs could never get him on anything. He never landed his ass in the joint. They could never get him, questioned him a handful of times, but nothing ever stuck. And he never gave anybody up.” Big John paused and looked up at Sal again, “Do you understand what I’m saying, kid?”
‘Not really,’ Sal thought with an internal sigh. Of course, that answer wouldn’t suffice. Instead he said, “I think so. You’re talking about loyalty.”
The old man nodded, “That’s right, Sally. You are where you’re at right now because of the trail your grandfather blazed for you and your old man. Slippery Sal had character. He was loyal because he never let his friends or his betters down. Have you thought about what you’re doing, where your loyalty lies?”
Sal let out a slow, audible sigh and replied, “I mean you no disrespect, sir. I’m just following orders. Your son and Wiggles, they’re scary dudes.”
“Yeah, I know,” Big John shrugged. “You’re just a soldier and you’re doing a good job, kid. Don’t stand to close to that fire though. You’re bound to get burned.”
By the time Big John had finished, Sal was pushing a plate on the wall. The heavy, metal door swung slowly inward in response. Once inside the room, Sal reached over to the wall on the left side of the doorway and flipped a switch. As the darkness fled, “What the…” was all Sal managed to get out before he was lying on the floor with a thin trickle of blood oozing from a hole in the center of his forehead. Moments later, the door slowly swung shut and pushed the newly made corpse back into the hallway.
“Hello, John,” an old man sitting in a brown, leather easy chair against the wall opposite the door said in a calm, soothing voice.
The report from the gun hadn’t registered with Big John. However, the ringing in his ears assured him that there had been one. That ringing all but kept him from hearing what the soon to be dead man staring at him had said. His eyes narrowed as he spat his words out between clenched teeth, “I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you’re as good as dead.”
“Forgive me, John,” the old man smiled. “It makes sense that you wouldn’t recognize me. You have never seen my face. You know who I am though.”
“You’re a fucking corpse,” John shouted at the man and the barrel of the gun that he was staring down.
“I think I have a few years left in me, John. You, on the other hand,” the sly smile widened, “your time is up. You owe me a debt.”
“Get to the point,” John’s tone remained a shout. “I don’t like this game of yours.”
“You took something from me a long time ago and, like I said, you owe me a debt.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, what do I owe you?”
The man in the easy chair looked at the ceiling and sighed. When he lowered his head back down there was intensity in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. That intense stare stabbed through Big John as the man’s tone fell to something just above a whisper. “I’ve loved many women in my life,” the man began, “but one of them stands above all the others. She was the only one that ever truly held my heart.”
“You’ve come to me to lament lost loves?” Big John scoffed. “Just pull that fucking trigger and see how far you make it trying to get out of this place. I don’t owe you or anybody else anything.”
“Oh but you do, John. You owe me everything. You see, this perfect creature, this elegant beauty that stole my heart, her name was Capricia…”
“Miles fucking Blaney, you son of a bitch, I’m gonna’…” a coughing fit cut Big John off before he could finish the threat.
Miles waited patiently, watching the old bastard convulse helplessly in his wheelchair. The fit lasted a solid two minutes, two minutes that gave the smile on Miles’ face more time to grow. Once the fit ceased, Miles continued as if neither the threat nor the fit had ever occurred, “She was perfect, sweet, caring and beautiful. The world lost…”
“She was a fucking whore,” Big John interrupted.
“She was everything to me,” all of the humor left Miles’ face as he squeezed the trigger of his pistol.
“Son of a bitch!” Big John shouted as his shoulder erupted. It had been quite a few years since anybody had the balls to put a bullet in him. It is something you never get used to.
“Relax,” Miles snapped. “The pain you’re feeling right now is nothing to the lifetime of heartache you caused me.”
“She was my wife,” the words flopped out amid a humorless laugh. “How dare you accuse me? You self-righteous bastard, you stole my wife from me.”
“You didn’t care about her,” Miles squeezed his trigger again. “She was nothing more than property to you.”
Big John’s eyes narrowed to a squint as a scowl spread across his face, “What I felt or didn’t feel for her is none of your fucking business. She took a fucking vow and broke it.” Both of his shoulders burned as his clenched his jaw tight.
“The vow meant as much to her as it did to you, you fucking hypocrite,” Miles finally lost control of his cool demeanor.
“That fucking…” were the last words to leave Big John’s mouth. Miles squeezed his trigger again and pumped a slug into the old man’s head.
Miles loudly sucked in a deep breath and released it slowly as he gazed at the furious, twisted expression on Big John’s carcass. After a few moments, Miles blinked several times and said, “The debt isn’t nearly paid, but there is nothing else you can give me.”