“I let it go longer than I should have,” Vince Toscano said to the man in the sport jacket standing in front of the desk, “because you've been such a loyal employee. Anything I've ever asked you to do, you've done.”
“I know that, ‘Mr. T’, I know that.” Freddie Zito replied. He resisted the urge to reach up and wipe the sweat off his brow. God knows he'd seen lots of these kinds of meetings over the years. This was the first time he'd been the one on the “business end.” It gave him a whole new perspective on things, that’s for damn sure.
“The thing is, Freddie, if I let you get away with it, well, you know how it goes. Discipline, that’s what it’s all about in this business. I have to set an example. Not even one of ‘my boys’ can get a break. You owe $25,000 in gambling debts plus the ‘vig. With your habit, you'll never make good on the money. God only knows what you'll do, who you'll talk to, in order to get out from under. I can't take those kinds of chances. Never have, never will. No one lasts very long if they do. You know it’s nothing personal.”
Toscano clapped his hands and two guys, each the size of your average office building, moved quietly into the room. They took up positions on either side of Zito … and just behind him.
“Please, Mr. Toscano, give me another week. I swear on my mother’s grave I'll get you your money.”
“Freddie, it’s not about the money any more. You understand. I promise you we'll take good care of your wife and kids. I haven't forgotten the way you looked after Mrs. Toscano when I was in the hospital last year. Somebody else might have taken advantage of the situation, you know what I mean?” Sally Toscano was in her early-thirties, nearly half the age of her husband. She was also hot enough to melt the polar ice-caps. “Boys ...”
With that the two behemoths flanking Zito moved forward. Instead of grabbing hold of the hapless man, however, they both drew weapons.
“Easy, boys,” Toscano said with surprise in his voice. He had used these two guys before and they were good. “What the hell are you doing? Not here. You know better. And listen … make it quick and clean. I owe him that.”
The two thugs didn't respond. Instead, they leveled their guns at Toscano.
“What was I gonna do, ‘Mr. T’? Zito began. I owe you and I owe Falcone. He offered me a way out. Said if I took care of you he'd forgive my debt and pay me enough so that I could take a little vacation in the Caribbean and give Sal and Johnny here a cut as well. Maybe if you'd given me more time? But, hey, like you said, it’s just business.”
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Toscano chuckled nervously. “I should have seen this coming. I should have taken care of it sooner.”
“Yea, well, everybody makes mistakes. Listen, as far as Mrs. Toscano is concerned, you can rest easy. She'll be in good hands.”
At the mention of his wife, Toscano’s eyes blazed. Almost imperceptibly he moved his right hand toward the drawer of his desk. Just as his fingertips reached their destination, two gunshots sounded. One bullet struck Toscano in the middle of his forehead. The other caught him in the throat. He was dead before he tumbled backward out of his chair.
“Get this mess cleaned up,” Zito told Sal and Johnny as he pulled out his cell phone and punched in a number. The smell of cordite was strong in the small confines of the room. “Do just what we talked about. And remember, loyalty means everything in this business … Sally, yea, it’s me …”
BIO: James C. Clar is a teacher and writer who lives in upstate NY. His book reviews, articles and author interviews appear regularly in the pages of MYSTERY NEWS. His work, including short fiction, has also appeared in the CRIME & SUSPENSE EZINE, MYSTERYAUTHORS.COM, WORD CATALYST, HACKWRITERS, A LONG STORY, SHORT, CRIMESCENE:SCOTLAND, ORCHARD PRESS MYSTERIES and CRIME TIME MAGAZINE (UK).