The pain was intense, unbearable, and deep. The bullet tore through flesh and bone and sinew as a rusty knife to this rotting flesh; searing and scorching every fibre along the way with the heat of a thousand suns. O'Neil felt the burn infiltrate every cell in his body, and the black encroached deeper still until each breath laboured on unwilling. But bastards never have the liberty to die.
"I told you, you Mick fuck, didn't I? I told you to give me my fucking money! You think this is a game? There's no arcade here, O'Neil, no fucking second lives. You get me that money, and you get it for me now - or I swear to Christ I will stamp the life out of everything you hold dear, O'Neil, every fucking thing you hold dear!'
He clung to the floor like it was a grungy halfway house between life and death; watching and feeling the blood seep from gaping holes placed there by Caprece: bullet holes too low to kill, too high to ignore the gripping pain that envelops.
As Caprece and Giardo's thumping footsteps ricocheted off the creaking floor, and their shadows slunk into the night, O'Neil sank almost instantly into desolation. The wounds of flesh heal quick, but he knew Caprece sought to inflict mortal wounds of the soul.
As he sank into unconsciousness, O'Neil caught a glimpse of the paper Caprece had stapled to his hand: it was a note scribbled in hasty ink, "2235 Meadows Park Drive. Pay them." It was Melissa's handwriting.
It's the smell that repulses me. It's not the pathetic masses of shame and greed and carnage whose unmoving roots have long since grown into these seats. It's not their trivialities, their sycophantic pursuits of modest power for modest ends; it's not their hustling and dealing, or the consumption of the smallness of their lives. No, it's the smell of Vinny's, the smell of vomit and blood admixture, pungent and delivered to the nostrils, that pierces you. It's as if the wood and cement in these walls sweat for the lost lives they contain, and the scent of pure angst is their body odour.
As I sit here, now, in this filth, in this abattoir for ambition and a regular life, I can picture the day my normalcy fleeted. I was 10, and the D'Magio's dog had been missing for days. Antonio D'Magio was my best friend, I suppose; though friendship is a strong label to attach to someone like me. He ran around like a sobbing idiot for days, lamenting Butch's disappearance. The block was littered in the grainy black and white posters the D'Magio's had printed from Joe's; the entire street was papered in transparent desperation.
I knew where Butch was, of course; I knew because I took him. There was no reason, no rhyme - I took him because I took what I want. I always have. I kept him in my basement, in a cage, under the boxes of liquor my mom hid from my dad. I knew she only went down there when she was a drunk blind fool, and Butch was quiet, so the risk was low. I fed him for days, walked him; talked to him like he was my dog, and played fetch. I entertained him, but mine has always been the long game.
You see, I played the D'Magio's heartstrings like a twanging banjo; every note was sweeter than the last, and every one sounded more like the register cashing in on bitter tears. They offered a $100 reward for whoever found the dog on their poster; I played the hero and then made them pony up for more cash. Life was good; yeah, it was.
But now there's no Butch, and no Tony; no poor family to scam; no reward money to crinkle and fall in my fingers, dancing the sweetest dance on my finger tips. No, not any more. Now? Well, now there's just this shithole, wreaking and rotten, and the losers here in it - not just including, but especially me.
I'd continue, here, sipping my flask, well on the path of infinite regression to self-loathed inebriation - you know the kind, where the drink-fueled stupor is so deep you couldn't claw your way back into miserable self-identity if you tried - but the constant, nagging pain from the bullet holes in my chest and leg reminds me of my purpose: Caprece, and his money.
I start hobbling toward the door and fear grips every part of me. The second anyone moves toward the backdoor of Vinny's, it's almost as if the text that reads, "Staff" on the window re-etches itself in anticipation of what's to come, broadcasting, "Death, now" to all those who read it. The busy and hurried procession of half-cocked guidos stop their hustle and watch the living dead shuffle into that room on a daily basis. I am the unwilling leader of a Dia de los Muertos procession, and I read the grief on the faces as I walk on.
As I shuffle past the oak bar aged from gallons of stills and spirits that have spilled, dried, and spilled again, I see that prick Giardo open the door with his sick, toothy, menacing smile. Giardo is an enforcer for Caprece, the latter a lieutenant in the Gambriano crime family. He is an obese, disgusting mess who smells like cigarettes and Limoncello, and who looks like sexual assault. He is also a merciless taker of life, and the author of the painful story my scars have written.
"Hey, boss, guess who's here? Your favorite deadbeat lepr'chaun! Ya want I should check his ass for a fo' leaf clova or somethin'?"
"Vincente!" Caprece bellowed from the room, "Be so kind as remove your capacious posterior from my frame of vision, so that I may glance more keenly upon the visitor in our home."
Luca Caprece's ruthless ambition is matched only by his verbosity and false intellect. In between burying knives in the backs of any schmuck idiotic enough to oppose him, he supposedly reads word jumbles to appear more cultured to his many business interests. A mobster with a deep-seated insecurity complex; who knew.
"Mr. O'Neil, my guest, allow me to apologize for both my previously uncouth behavior at our last rendezvous, and here again for the braggadocious affectations of my simple minded Sicilian compatriot, Mr. Giardo. Salutary atonement for past deeds and the attenuation of present misgivings aside, Mr. O'Neill, it is my understanding that the status of your account remains in arrears - a situation for which immediate amendment is required, particularly in reference to avoiding a maelstrom of violence being unleashed on your kin."
"Luca, uh... I mean, Mr. Caprece... I ha..." I stumbled, before I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and a heavy glare in my direction.
"Excuse me, Mr. O'Neil, for I must have been operating under the clearly false pretense that we were engaged in a dialogue; and, as such, that you were according me the customary level of respect for an interlocutor, such that I may have completed my thought without interruption...."
Caprece pauses; he revels in the fear of others. My eyes shoot up, defiant at first; and then my hands immediately wander to my chest - instinct, perhaps - and my fingers warily explore the contours of twisted skin littering my body, a kinesthetic reminder to be quiet. Eyes defiant, first, now deferring.
"As I thought, Mr. O'Neil. Your momentary lapse of judgement aside, my associates and I have granted your request to offer monetary remuneration as means alternate to familial bloodshed. I offer you first a caveat, Mr. O'Neil, pertaining to this most gracious of accommodation that we are offering you: pay these fucking monies. Because if you don't, I will personally rip the larynx from your wife's still beating throat and beat your son to death with it, Mr. O'Neil."
"Luca, Mr. Caprece, I have the money - and...and," the panic is starting to grip me, each breath stumbling over the last so quickly that my breath are the bulls and my words are the spectators at Pamplona. Relax, and continue, "and I have a way to repay my debt double and make you some money! Not just my debt, but make you money, I swear."
First indignation, then intrigue, and then resignation to the possibility of profit at the cost of not killing me wash over Caprece's face in quick succession - each new look representing a grinding turn on the rollercoaster that my pulse has become. He looks at me, reservedly, and allows a single word to pierce his lips, "Continue."
I exhale fear; I inhale the will to continue. "Well, there's a fight tonight, you see, a UFC fight. Between these two guys - big guys - they're heavyweights, right. Brett Rogers is one, and Alistair Overeem is the other. Now, now, normally, I mean normally, right, Alistair would crush this guy - he's a big, hulking Dutchmen, like, genetically engineered to fuck someone's girlfriend almost, and I..."
"Mr. O'Neil," Caprece sharply interrupts, "I fear you may be misinterpreting the beneficence with which I have thus far approached this encounter as a sign of both largesse and a commodious nature to my schedule. I ensure you that I possess neither such quality in quantities to be of use to you and, as a consequence, implore you to more expeditiously detail the means by which you will rectify this financial calamity you find yourself in."
"Sorry, Luca, uh..Mr. Caprece", I hurriedly half-shout, half-speak, while fully anticipating the end to arrive sooner than later. "So, like I was saying, two guys, one's huge and a huge favourite; the other should be going down quick. But the fix is in, you see, the fix is in. The big guy, the giant, Overeem, see, I know his trainer personally, and he's taking a dive in the first - guaranteed! I've put down 18, er, I mean 25, no I mean..."
"Mr. O'Neil," Caprece words bludgeon the air with the thickness of his accent - as if the words from his mouth beat the air into submission on their way to brutalizing my ear, "as intriguing as your tales of pugilistic posturing are, I am haunted by the creeping suspicion that I am being inveigled into a most non-fortuitous of circumstances. Not to mention, your inability to recall the precise value of your bet is disquieting. So, please, I implore you a final time before my associate must engage you in a lopsided bout of fisticuffs: get to the fucking point."
God, I need to compose myself. The sweat collecting on my furrowed brow stifles and haunts me, as if every bead is a pathetic, self-inflicted portent of the mess my life has become. My heart beat is audible and thunderous, pushing and clawing and ripping at my chest as if the organ knows its future in this vessel is limited - it cries out to remain living despite me. I wish I could join it, but I need to push forward. I continue.
"Look, Mr. Caprece, just let me tell you the deal. I put a bet down for 25k on Rogers with your bookie, and at the odds that means 25 for the bet and another 3 for the vig - so on my bet alone you'll get 28. I only owe you 14k. You take this information and drop the line on Overeem, the bets come in on him, and you load the line on your end for Rogers. It's a guaranteed moneymaker - I swear on my kid's life. I know a con, Mr. Caprece, you know that."
"Indeed, Mr. O'Neil, I am well aware of your conniving and duplicitous nature, which is in equal parts insidious and predictable. So predictable, in fact, that I was able to secure knowledge of your pugilistic pursuance in advance of this meeting. For this reason, and I must stress for this reason alone, I am allowing this most unusual of reimbursement schemes to continue. But it continues with conditions, Mr. O'Neil, against which I may leverage you if I am so inclined - those conditions being the presence of my associates at your family home, 2235 Meadows Park Drive, so that we may all enjoy the brouhaha together. Vincente! Be so kind as to pass me my mobile"
As the cell leaves Giardo's hand, my rage rises and falls with the parabola of its path to Caprece: anger swells, at first, and then a calm washes over my anger-addled reasoning, a knowing that the wrong move here could end her life as well as mine. The cell lands in Caprece's grip with a softness that betrays the dire situation I find myself in.
"Thank you, Vincente. Now, Mr. O'Neil, allow me to demonstrate the seriousness with which I am approaching your skulduggery."
"Brian?! Brian?! Please tell me that's you, Brian! They're here and..." the phone cuts and Melissa's voice fades quickly into obscurity. Irrationality overtakes me.
"I swear to FUCKING GOD, CAPRECE, IF YOU TOUCH A HAIR ON HER HEAD I WILL FUCKIN..." the blunt force of Giardo's fist to my torso removes the air from my body faster than my brain can process it; I am still futilely miming my empty threats by the time I am involuntarily reseated.
"Please, Mr. O'Neil, please. Idle threats are certainly not an efficacious means of resolving your conundrum, particularly in light of the proximity of my associates'....well....finer parts to your wife and daughter. Now, while I have instructed my normally sexually effusive associates to remain on their best behavior, any further outbursts on your part may result in punitive measures of a most barbaric quality. My suggestion is to instead remain calm, as you indeed should be if you con artistry is as irreproachable as you claim."
"Yeah, boss, let's see if this, ah, moron ova' here is ready to die tonight! Hey boss, let's do that," Giardo bumbles out.
Before Caprece has another opportunity to natter on, I stake my claim. "Yeah, lets mutherfukers.
The certainty in my bones is rattled by Overeem's Herculean physique the moment the broadcast cuts to clips of his prior victims. I've been assured a million times over and again that Overeem will dive, even down to the minute and the round; but I can't shake the feeling that his entrance, so calm and subdued, is an auspice that something is awry. Overeem circles the cage like the prodigal son, a returning conqueror prepared to vanquish and dismiss an impostor to his throne. Please, God, let this be a hard sell.
As Jimmy Johnson nasals his way through the fighter announcements, Overeem sits in his corner with a characteristic sense of defiant superiority - almost insulted that his skills are being directed toward such an unworthy sloth. Rogers, my guy, the beneficiary of backroom politics convoluted and deep, seems stilted though prepared. I am now an augur, with rattled nerves, reading the tea leaves of pre-fight body language hoping, praying, needing that the bodily words these combatants speak to one another is not portentous of what's to come.
They are now mere inches away from one another. As Big John reads through the customary litany of pre-fight pronouncements, Rogers' demeanor has become increasingly more diffident; Overeem's increasingly more presumptuous. Rogers does not meet Overeem's gaze during the stare, and the massive Dutchman they call, "The Demolition Man" affixes an unbroken, contemptuous stare on Rogers' face that worries me further. As if to read my mind, Caprece breaks the hushed silence in the room, "Mr. O'Neil, though I am not one to prognosticate on pugilistic manners such as these, I cannot help but observe the confidence of one Mr. Alistair Overeem. For the sake of both yourself and your dearest family, I hope Mr. Overeem's present state of mind is not a premonitory sign of Mr. Rogers', and therefore your, imminent demise."
I ignore Caprece - partly of will, partly due to the paralysis that has overcome me; arisen from a thick, suffocating fear that has always lived somewhere deep in my body and, perhaps, has simply chosen now to come to bear. I take another swill of the whiskey that is my constant companion; self-confidence become me, please.
The fighters have been circling each other for a minute or so, and my anxiety peaks. A feint by Rogers, a jab by Overeem, nothing significant. I have time, I think. Or do I? My brain is so muddled with fear and anxiety and rage and remorse that I can hardly remember when Overeem is to dive. The second? Yeah, the second...I think. Or is it...
While the irrationality of drunkenness has been masquerading around in my brain as rational thought, the fight has continued. And then I see it: the chiseled action figure that is Alistair Overeem tosses aside the doughy, gelatinous body of Brett Rogers like a rag doll, and immediately begins raining hell-fire and brimstone on him. The room slows; the smoke from every cigarette lingers in acknowledgement, begging a word to be spoken. And then it comes.
"Mr. O'Neil, excuse my naivete, but I was under the impression that your man, Mr. Alistair Overeem, was to take a so-called, "dive" in this arrangement. My utter ignorance as to the finer points of unarmed combat aside, you fucking mick, it looks a lot more like he's fucking winning! Vincete, call Mr. Gallano, now, and let's finish watching this bout with Mr. O'Neil's wife on the line!"
"Mr. Caprece, please, I...."
"Quiet, Mr. O'Neil! I want you to hear the strategically-placed 45mm softly place a bullet in its chamber for your wife."
And I do; the click sickens me. I am enraged. "I will skullfuck you, Luca, win or lose if you touch her! I swear to God I will br...."
A roar on the screen interrupts me, and the macabre theater we are conducting grounds to a halt. Rogers is on the ground, febrile and fetal, and the fear that paints his expression transposes on mine. Overeem is lurched on top of Rogers like a lion pouncing on an injured gazelle, and I can feel every blow, sharp and painful, pierce the television on its way to my body. Rogers' resistance is pathetic, and the tears and frustration of a hundred past mistakes well in my eyes - I can see the end coming. A futile kick from Rogers; another set of vicious blows from Overeem.
John McCarthy. The harbinger of death. As his blackened figure mercifully pries the conquering Dutchman off the pathetic futility incarnate that is Brett Rogers, I hear it: a shot, and then another. Boom; boom. The succession of death is here, apparent, and unmistakable - it calls me from the mobile phone a scant few feet away from my face. But I deny it, you see, it can't be. It can't be happening.
I turn to face my captors, enraged and willing to die, and they oblige. It's softer, this time; almost like a velvet knife piercing into the very core of who I am. It seeped out of me last time you, see, I watched it - the blood leaked from me almost remorseful that it inhabited such a pitiful vessel. This time it creeps from the hole in my chest, so close to the first, almost comforting. I cry out, with no purpose but to cry, "MUTHERF*UWUIUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUk!"
Another bullet; another horror; my regrets are numerous. As I slip away, I see Melissa's face, and my daughter's: they shine above me, a target, a goal, my accomplishments snuffed out in the course of greed. It's fitting, I suppose: a bastard, given the liberty to die, only when he has nothing else to live for.